Labor to Enter the Rest Part 3

Hebrews 4:11-13 (KJV) 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. 12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

We are currently learning about how we release the power of grace in our personal walk with God. It is certainly true that salvation is by grace alone. Jesus paid the price for our sin. God’s grace caused him to do that. All we have to do to be saved is accept what grace did. Romans 10 tells us how to do that.

Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV) 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Nothing more is necessary to be saved. I am not discussing here “eternal security” or the possibility of losing salvation. I am speaking of the person who honestly receives Jesus as Lord and savior. All of us find rather quickly that being born again in spirit does not necessarily mean that all the bad habits or ungodly behavior fall off immediately.

We have been trained according to our culture, our background and our society. Some of which is not a problem. Some is directly opposed to Godly living. As we grow in Christ there are things we must do in order to win victory over the flesh. Grace provides the power that makes them affective. Nevertheless, there are things we must do in order to grow in grace. That is our part. The power is God’s part.

What are these things we must do? Why do we do them and what can we expect to happen as we do them? That is what we will try to answer in the weeks to come.

For today, I want to look at the scripture above. It makes it very clear that we must labor in order to enter the rest of harmony. If we do not come to the place where spirit, soul and body are all doing what God intended them to do, this verse makes it clear that we will fail just as Israel did.

Does that failure mean we will not go to heaven? Not necessarily. We are talking about the general flow of life that faces every Christian. One of my main desires in terms of what I want to communicate to the church is that there is more to Christianity than missing hell and making heaven. That is most certainly the most important thing from an eternal perspective. However, God has so much more for us here on earth.

God desires that we be co-laborers with him in building his Kingdom. He has a wonderful purpose and destiny for each of us. Even the generation that did not go into the promised land at all, never stopped being God’s people. They did fail to walk in their destiny. Unbelief, rebellion and disobedience will rob us of the wonderful future and purpose God has for us.

They also brought judgement upon themselves and their families that caused great suffering. I do not believe God brings suffering on us. I believe we have an enemy and when we allow sin and ungodliness to remain in our behavior, we make a way for that enemy to bring destruction to our earthly life. I do not want that.

In my forty years of ministry the problem that I have seen is that people do not understand the nature of the labor. They often do the labor for the wrong reasons. This is generally just as in effective as laziness. The difference is that it leads to more discouragement and a lack of understanding of the nature of the God we serve.

Why must we do certain things. Verse 10 makes it clear. The purpose of our labor is to enter the rest. It is not to earn God’s acceptance. You already have it because you are born again. Jesus purchased your Father’s acceptance in his death, burial and resurrection. When you received salvation, grace made you accepted by and acceptable to God (Ephesians 1:3-11.)

That is one of the biggest problems I see. Most people have had some degree or another of the idea of “measuring up” communicated to them in their lives. By this I mean that they believed, rightly or otherwise, that the only way to be accepted is to attain a certain standard. This standard may be in terms of behavior, performance, looks or any number of other things.

When this comes from a parent it is very difficult to put in perspective. I have dealt with countless people who struggle in their relationship with God because the “measure up” syndrome is so ingrained in them that they simply cannot believe that God can accept them into his family by grace alone. They labor, sometimes harder than others in the church but it is for the wrong reasons. You cannot do enough to earn what you already have. You simply have to take God at his word and believe that he already loves and accepts you.

1 John 4:9-10 (NKJV) 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

We do not have to work to earn God’s love. We simply have to believe that God does love us (1 John 4:16.) Our love for God must grow out of response to believing he loves us. When we try to prove to God that we love him by working really hard, we miss the point. He loves me. The more I accept and believe that truth the more my love for him will grow.

We may go to church, read the Word, pray and do Christian work, but if it is to “measure up” to an arbitrary standard that has been imprinted upon us, we will become discouraged and either work harder while having less joy or quit trying altogether falling into the trap of Hebrews 4:11. Neither is the right thing to do.

Let me use a silly illustration. Digging a ditch is hard work. I do not like digging. If I am told I need to dig but have no idea why I am digging, the work quickly becomes intolerable. If, however, I am told that I need to dig a trench in order to protect my home and family from a flood, I will work willingly and gladly. I know why I am working. I know that the result of my work will produce something important. I labor to save my home and family not just to do “busy work” in order to prove my worth to someone.

We are to labor to enter the rest. The goal is not just the work. We do not pray as a spiritual exercise to prove we are acceptable to God. Andrew Murray, a powerful Christian writer from the past, said that Jesus prayed to get answers. We work because God reveals to us that certain practices will help us overcome the flesh, walk in our destiny and find the rest that God always wanted for his people. Any other reason will not do. God says the point of our labor is to enter the rest. It is never to be more loved, more accepted or more saved.

That does not change the fact that the labor must be done. When we know what we are doing and what it will accomplish, we do it with joy. Faithfulness becomes a wonderful thing in our eyes. We know that we are flowing with the one who loved us to build a better and more powerful life here on earth both for us and for others in whose life we have influence.

We do it because we are loved not to be loved. We work because we are accepted not to be accepted. We work to please the one who accepted, loved and saved us. This is very different from trying to measure up to someone’s standard of acceptance.

Advertisements

Labor to Enter the Rest Part 2

Hebrews 4:11-13 (KJV) 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. 12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

In our study of how grace works in the life of the believer we have seen that Paul in Romans 7 found himself in a “wretched” condition. In Romans 8 he gives us the solution. If we walk in the spirit and not in the flesh we will not have to deal with the constant struggle between what the flesh pushes us to do and what we know we should do in order to please God.

I believe this is the crux of the dispute that seems to be in the church today. On the one hand there are those who say, “Since God did it all by grace, we do not need to repent of sin. We do not need to be concerned about lifestyle. We just need to know God loves us and love God and it will all be OK.”

There is a great deal of truth in that statement. There is also a great deal of misunderstanding. Salvation is given to us as a gift. There is nothing you can do to earn it. It comes by the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus and we obtain it by faith (Ephesians 2:8.) However, that does not absolve us from personal responsibility. In the last few posts we have been looking at Hebrews 4. You also need to read Hebrews 3.

These two chapters speak of Israel’s rebellion. The writer is trying to get the Christians of the day to understand that there is a trap into which God’s people can fall. This trap will rob them of their power to live in victory and their destiny in God. That trap starts with unbelief which progresses into rebellion. Israel did not believe they could overcome the obstacles in the promised land of Canaan. Their unbelief caused them to rebel against God. The result was that a whole generation never experienced what God had for them. Hebrews calls Canaan their rest.

There is still a rest available to the people of God. It is the spiritual fulfillment of what God wanted for natural Israel in The Promised land. It is how we will walk in destiny and victory as Christians. It is how we will walk above the limitations and sin of the flesh. It is how we will access the power of God to overcome our three enemies: The world, the flesh and the devil. Our rest is to walk with our spirit, our soul and our body all doing what they were designed by God to do. This is what Paul calls “walking in the spirit” in Romans 8 and Galatians 5.

The argument today seems to be between grace and law. I believe there are many who have tried to do their best to serve God by living according to His standards and principles and have found themselves in Romans 7. (You may need to go back and read this chapter.) They try really hard to do what is right, but they fail. Their flesh gets the better of them and they fall into some sin. Whether the sin is great or small it does not matter. The result is the same. The devil brings condemnation and the condemnation is affective because we know we have done something wrong.

Sometimes it is not even a matter of sin. We may fail in our own eyes, not God’s. There may be no real failure at all, but we have been conditioned to believe that anything that is not perfection is failure. Nothing could be farther from the truth in God’s eyes.

Psalm 78:39 (NKJV) 39 For He remembered that they were but flesh, A breath that passes away and does not come again.

This Psalm is talking about the same period in Israel’s history as Hebrews 3 and 4. God remembers what we are. As Christians, we have something Israel did not have. We are new creatures because of what Jesus did. They were not. Even so we are still often dominated by flesh. It causes us to fail just as it caused Israel to fail. We need to know that God understands our limitations. He does not cast us away because of failures whether real or perceived. He gives us a way to overcome those weaknesses. It is called walking in the spirit and we do it by grace through faith.

In preaching concerning things like holiness, I have often said that I do not have a problem with people who fail to walk in holiness. I have a problem with people who do not care. When we come to a place where sin is an acceptable part of our Christian walk we have a problem. We all fail. We all sin. The New Testament acknowledges that. However, it is how we react when we fail or sin that is important. When I fail I need to ask God’s forgiveness and get back in the game.

The problem is that many people have never understood that this was what God wanted. They fail and then they just try harder to keep the Law. We learned in Romans 7 that there is nothing wrong with God’s law. The problem is that our flesh cannot keep it. Many Christians have gotten so tired of trying to keep the law, that they just give up. That is exactly what we need to do but the devil can get in and bring deception about what this means.

If we give up and say, “Sin does not matter. I cannot be holy like God, so he must understand that I have to sin. He took care of it. It’s all grace so I don’t have to do anything.” When we get to that point we are defeated. The flesh will dominate us the rest of our lives and we will eventually come to a place the bible calls a seared conscience.

This condition is when sin no longer bothers us. We accept it in our own lives and encourage others to accept it as well. The end is always death. It has been a method the devil has used to cripple the church since the resurrection. The devil dresses the process up in different clothes but in essence it is always the same.

In every era, this devilish plan has caused the church to reject or rationalize the miraculous. Prayer becomes less and less important. When there is prayer it is increasingly cold and formal. Relativism begins to take over the interpretation of the Word of God. The church begins to be conformed to culture instead of opposing human culture. Finally, the church is an irrelevant part of society tucked away in buildings, formalism and powerlessness.

That is what we see in most denominational structures. The devil is trying to do the same thing to the Charismatic/Pentecostal/Evangelical church today. It all begins with the condemnation the devil brings because of our inevitable failure. What a pity this is since God has provided such a powerful alternative. We can walk in the spirit.

I find myself having spent time today where I did not intend to spend it. In doing so we are right back to where I ended last time. Hebrews 4:11 says we must work to enter the rest. Work is exactly what the devil does not want us to do. He wants us to relax into the rest. That sounds more plausible on the surface, does it not? However, God knows what we do not.

Since there is a work we must do to get to the rest, the devil makes sure that all spiritual works are classified as law. His goal is to get us to stop trying and accept that we will sin. The deception is to make us believe that God just does not care about sin since Jesus.

The truth is that sin is just as toxic as it ever was. There is a work done for the right reasons in the right way that will save us. We must labor to get to the place where we finally enter the rest that will cause us to win the victory over the flesh. The world and the devil become far less substantial opponents after that.

Labor to Enter the Rest

Hebrews 4:11 (KJV) 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

We have been looking at how the grace of God enables us to overcome the weakness of the flesh and the temptations of the world. In Romans 7 we find a description of a person who is struggling with these forces. Most honest Christians understand what Paul is talking about. We are Christians, but we live in a world that Romans 8 calls enmity or hatred for God.

In Romans 8, Paul tells us the solution to what he calls the “wretchedness” of Romans 7.

Romans 8:1 (NKJV) 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

There is no condemnation for a person who walks in the Spirit and not in the flesh. In Hebrews 4, we find insights into what it means to walk in the spirit. In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, we see the people of Israel succumbing to unbelief which leads to rebellion and hardness of the heart. Because of this condition, the first generation never enters the Promised land of Canaan. Hebrews calls this their “rest.”

However, Hebrews is not talking about ancient Israel alone. The book exhorts us not to fall into the same trap. We must not give in to unbelief, rebellion and hardness of heart. Why not? Because there is still a rest available to the people of God. It is a rest Israel never entered even in subsequent generations. Verse 10 tells us to labor to enter the rest available to us in Christ or we will fall just as ancient Israel did.

A major key to understanding what Hebrews is talking about is the word rest. According to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, this word does not mean inactivity. It means the harmony of all aspects of the human being working together. Man is spirit, soul and body. When all three are fulfilling the function that God intended, Christianity and everything it entails becomes a rest not a struggle.

In this rest, faith flows naturally. Holiness is not an impossibility. Temptation, always there, is no longer the danger it once was. Resistance to sin is almost unnecessary. We simply flow with the nature of God into our destiny. The nature of God becomes the dominant factor in our behavior. This is what God wants for us.

Today, there is an increasingly popular idea that seems to say this condition can be attained simply by believing that God did it all. Sin was paid for, therefore there is no need to worry about it. If we sin, it is “no big deal” because Jesus already died for my sin. I should just relax, enjoy life and eventually heaven will be my home. What happens here and now is almost irrelevant.

Though there is truth in that perspective, how that “rest” comes to us is being lost. We live in an entitlement society. The thought that we do not have to do anything to obtain the “rest” plays into entitlement thinking. It does not agree with the bible.

Hebrews 4:10 tells us that we must labor to enter the rest. It goes on to say that if we do not, we risk the same fate that befell the first generation of Israel. We will fail to enter the real purpose of God for our lives just as they did.

Labor, KJV, and rest seem opposites at first glance. In the natural, we know they are not. How do we come to a place of rest in retirement? Do we simply waste our time through life and expect that when we are older we will be able to quit working and just do what we want for the rest of our lives? If we think that, we find out we are wrong.

If we want to “rest” in retirement we have to work for many years to lay the foundation. We have to discipline ourselves to resist the temptation to spend all we have on temporary pleasure. We must put away some of what we earn for the future. Advertisement today is full of companies exhorting us to make sure we have enough to “rest” for the last part of life.

The “rest” of Hebrews 4 is not an entitlement. It is, however, far more than retirement. It is a rest available for our whole life, not just the end. It is a rest that will consume our work life in peace and joy. It is a rest that will cause us to rise above sin and the enemy all the days of our lives. It is a rest that will take us to our destiny. It is also a rest for which there is a labor to be done.

I am going to take a little “rabbit trail” here. In John 17:3, Jesus says that real life is to know God and the one he sent, Jesus. There is no life greater, more abundant in what makes life worth living than to know God personally. The quest of every believer should be to know him better every day. In a very real sense this is the rest we are talking about.

I have heard some talk a great deal about this relationship. They rightly point out that to know God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the answer to how we can walk in victory. What seems to me to be lacking is any teaching on how to know him. I think Hebrews tells us. We must be diligent to get to know him. In the King James Version, it says we must labor. Knowing God takes a certain amount of work.

We know this is true in any other relationship. We say all the time that a good marriage takes a certain amount and type of work. I raised six children and I love them. Staying in right relationship with them through the various phases of child rearing certainly takes work. Keeping good friends around us takes work. Why do we think that the rest of relationship with God does not?

In our last post, we answered the question of what it means to walk in the spirit. I believe it is the rest of Hebrews 4. Not a rest of inactivity but a rest of harmony. Each part of my being is given to me for a purpose. My body is the part of me with which I relate to the physical world. My soul made up of my intellect, emotions and will, was given to me to relate to the intellectual world. It is a bridge between my body, the outward world and the world of the spirit.

My spirit is the part that was given to me to relate to God. It is where I hear him and feel his presence. It is the part created in his image and likeness. It is that part of me that was made to be in control of my life. The other parts function to be the channel through which the inner man can relate to and affect the outer world.

To walk in the spirit means to actively live with that part of me in control. When I do, the Christian life becomes a rest. When I do not, I find myself in “Romans 7.” The flesh drives me to do what I do not want to do and the spirit cries within me to be what God wants me to be.

How do I get to the rest? I must labor, be diligent or work. We are not at all talking about the works of the law. We are talking about the works of faith.

James 2:17 (NKJV) 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

The real question is, “What kind of works must we do and what is the point of the work?” The problem is not that Christians are working too hard to know God. It is that they are doing the wrong works for the wrong reasons. The solution is not to stop working. That leads to disaster. Just ask Israel. The solution is to learn how to work, what works to do and why we do them.

What does it Mean to Walk in the Spirit

Hebrews 4:8-11 (NKJV) 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

We are looking at the way we overcome the flesh in the New Testament relationship based on Jesus’ sacrifice. In the Old Testament, God gave the law to help Israel control the flesh. This was a manifestation of Grace, unmerited favor, to Israel.

They did not deserve relationship with God, but his mercy caused him to make a covenant with his chosen People. This relationship had to be limited because sin was not yet paid for. That could not happen until Jesus came and died. However, God needed a people through whom he could send the Messiah. He made covenant with Israel to create that people. He gave them the Law and its sacrifices to keep them until Jesus could come (Galatians 3:24.)

There was a problem that was part of the law from the beginning. Romans 3:4 tells us that the law could never accomplish what God wanted because it was weak through the flesh. The law was a mechanism that used the flesh to control the flesh. The law involved rules and regulations that the flesh had to keep. It also involved sacrifices and consequences for when the people failed to keep the rules and regulations. All of this worked on the level of the flesh. It is impossible to control the flesh with the flesh. Paul says to control the flesh we must walk in the spirit.

What does it really mean to “walk in the spirit?” There are those who seem to believe that to walk in the spirit means to live in a state just short of a trance. They think we are only “in the spirit when” our senses are so focused on the invisible that we barely function in the visible world. Any disturbance breaks the “anointing” and we are no longer in the spirit.

Jesus walked in the spirit. I do not think anyone would argue that. However, Jesus was not spooky or otherworldly in the way he related to people. He talked to people. He laughed and wept with them. I know that his lifestyle could not have been “spooky spiritual” because children were drawn to him. I do not know about you, but my children would not have flocked to someone who acted like they were not really here.

Children did flock to Jesus and he welcomed them. Somehow, I cannot see him relating to them with his eyes half closed uttering, “Ooh, Ahh, Hallelujah” in a stage whisper. No, I think he talked to them, laughed with them and even played with them. Yet all the while he was walking in the spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the spirit and not the flesh? I believe that today’s scripture gives us a good explanation. In chapter 3 the writer is speaking of something that was available to the people of Israel. He quotes Psalm 95:7-11. In this Psalm, the Lord is speaking of the generation of Israelites who did not go into the promised land. They complained against God. They complained against Moses. They could not trust God enough to cross the river Jordon and enter the destiny God had for them.

In this Psalm, that destiny is called their “rest.” It was the will of God that they come to a place of peace from the struggles of the wilderness. In later generations, we find that they would have to fight to possess the Land of Promise.” However, once they conquered the enemies in Canaan, the will of God was that they live in peace until the coming of the Messiah.

The second generation of Israelites had enough faith to enter the land. They conquered most of the inhabitants and lived in relative peace. Nevertheless, they left some of the inhabitants of Canaan alive. God warned them that this would lead to compromise. After the death of Joshua, the Israelites failed to keep God’s ways and fell into captivity again and again. That was never what God intended for them, but their flesh was too strong for them to continue in God’s perfect rest.

God knew that would be the case. In chapter 4 he tells us that there is still a rest that the people of Israel never walked in. He says we should not harden our heart as they did. How did they harden their heart? They refused to believe that what God said was true. God promised them Canaan. God promised to drive out the enemy before them. They simply could not accept that this was possible in light of what they saw.

In later generations, they had seen God do what he said he would do, but they chose to yield to the flesh. They mingled with those who did not know God. They worshipped other gods and committed sins and engaged in practices that went against the will of God. This eventually led to them falling into captivity and being taken away from the “rest” God had promised them.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the rest God wanted for Israel is still available to those who love God. Israel never fully walked in what God wanted for his people, but he promised that someone would. That people who can and will walk in the fullness of God’s rest is the church.

Verses 10 and 11 give us some insights as to what this rest is. Verse10 tells us that someone who has entered this rest “ceases from his own works as God did from his.” He is talking about the seventh day of creation. God rested on the seventh day because all that had to be done was done. Creation was complete.

I believe the rest God wants for us is to realize that the work of salvation is already complete. There is nothing more we can do to earn salvation. Jesus did it all. Salvation is already ours. We do not need to work to earn God’s acceptance. It is already ours. 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that if we are in Christ we are new creations. We do not work to become new creations. Praise God!

This is a powerful truth, but in the next verse he seems to contradict what he said in verse 10. In verse 11 in the King James Version he says that we must “labor to enter the rest.” NKJV uses the term to be diligent. Diligent means to be hard working or conscientious in one’s work.

The meaning is the same. If we are going to enter the rest God has always desired for his people, there is a work to do. This is not a work to earn what is already ours. It is a work to cause what we are in Christ to dominate our outward life.

The word rest here is important. According to Vines Expository Dictionary, it does not mean the rest of inactivity. Instead it is “the harmonious working of all the faculties and affections, of will, heart, imagination, conscience, because each has found in God the ideal sphere for its satisfaction and development”

The rest God wants for us is that every part of our being do what it is supposed to do naturally. The body doing what God intended it to do. The soul consisting of the intellect, emotions and will doing what God intended it to do. Finally, the inner man, the spirit of man doing what God intended that part to do.

The spirit was to be the controlling part of man. Man was created in the image of God. John 4:4 tells us that God is a spirit. We are created to be spirit beings with a soul living in a body. To walk in the spirit is simply to walk with the spirit in control. If we can do that, we will walk according to God’s will and his ways. We will flow with his purpose. Sin will not be nearly the struggle it is when the flesh is in control.

How can we come to this rest? To quote Paul in Romans 7, “Thank God, we can do it by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Nevertheless, there is a labor or work involved. What is this work and what is its nature. That is what we must come to understand.

If I walk in the Spirit…..

Romans 8:2-4 (NKJV) 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3  For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The book of Romans is full of the important themes of Christianity. It speaks of the pervasive sin nature of man. It speaks of redemption, sanctification and righteousness. All these things make up the story of grace. To understand grace, we must understand the themes of Romans.

Romans 7 describes the everyday challenge for every believer living in the world. How can I live what I know is true when I am surrounded by temptation and corruption? The law comes from God so to blame the law cannot be the solution. The flesh of the individual is the real problem.

What exactly is the flesh in the life of a Christian? The flesh is the combination of soul and body under the influence of spiritual death and temptation. A true Christian has been born again on the inside (John 3:1-9.) That is why Christianity is not just a religion. It is an inward change that makes a person something they were not before it happened.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (NKJV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,

One interpretation of the word “creation” in this verse is something that never existed before. The salvation experience does not “renovate” the person. It creates a new person. The moment after we receive Jesus as the Lord and Savior of our lives, we are completely changed. This is one of the most powerful and least understood truths of the bible.

The problem we face is that this transformation does not occur to the outward man. It happens in that part which was created in the image and likeness of God. It is real, and it is what makes us fit to spend eternity in heaven. That is the work of Grace in salvation. Nothing else is required. Once we are born again, heaven is our eternal home. If we are not born again we cannot spend eternity in heaven. It is just that simple.

John 3:3 (NKJV) 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Underline is mine)

The new birth really happened to everyone who genuinely received Jesus. What about the outside? What about your thinking? What about how you have been trained to act? What about the appetites you have grown to need? None of these things are rooted in the part of us that was born again.

Before salvation we were “by nature children of wrath.”

Ephesians 2:1-3 (NKJV) 1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

The wording of this verse is clear concerning what a person is before salvation. You may not want to accept that this verse could be talking about you. When I told my mother I got “saved”, she said, “From what?” I was the good kid. I did not need saving. However, no matter how “good our behavior was we were what Paul says we were. We may not have looked like it to others, but we were all those things on the inside.

After salvation the inside changes. I am not Ephesians 2 any longer. I am 2 Corinthians 5:17. Nevertheless, for all my life before salvation I was Ephesians 2. To one degree or another I “conducted myself in the lusts of my flesh.” I was trained by a world system that was founded on people who were Ephesians 2 by nature. I was born again very young. My parents were not. They spent more than 50 years as Ephesians 2 people living in an Ephesians 2 world.

They were not programed to think or act according to the salvation that came to them according to 2 Corinthians 5. They were graphic examples of the people Paul is talking about in Romans 7. They were born again but they never fully overcame the flesh.

So here is the dilemma. I am born again. I am going to heaven, but I struggle to live as I should. Why? I struggle because I live in a body that was raised and have lived according to the conditions of Ephesians 2. I continue to live in a society that was created and remains influenced by Ephesians 2. When my soul, my intellect, emotions and will come under the influence of that world, I tend to revert to what I have always known.

When my will yields to the temptation to follow my old life and the Ephesians 2 world I live in, I have a problem. I am born again. My inner man delights after the truth and purity in the Law of God. However, my outward man wants to yield to the old law that used to govern me. That is the law of Ephesians 2.

That old law is not always overtly evil. It is always familiar. It conforms to the world around me. It is easier to go that way than to resist. In many ways it feels right. It always was right before. However, now we know the law of God. We are born again. Something real has happened inside. We are no longer children of the devil. We have the law of God written on our hearts. Ephesians 2 is no longer our nature.

The flesh wants to follow what is familiar, easy and even pleasant. The inner man wants to follow the nature and the ways of God. The flesh is tempted, and the temptation seems reasonable and even right. The spirit, which is born again, knows the temptation is wrong. The spirit knows to live by the flesh brings death. Which one will win in my life today? That is Romans 7.

What is the solution. Paul tells us in the first verse of Romans 8:1.

Romans 8:1 (NKJV) 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

The key is not only that there is no condemnation if we are in Christ. The key is that we walk in the spirit and not according to the flesh. That is not a statement of law or even discipline alone. It is a way to live that will unlock the real power of grace to the believer after salvation.

Galatians 5:16-17 make this very clear.

Galatians 5:16-17 (NKJV) 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

If I can walk in the spirit I will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. The battle is won. I no longer fight my flesh, I live in control of it. My inner man, the part that was born again, is in control. I do naturally what I should do. The solution is not to control the flesh either by law or by my will power. The solution is to walk in the spirit. What does that mean, and how do we do it? More to come.

The Path to Freedom

Romans 7:24-25 (NKJV) 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of 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.

Romans 8:1 (NKJV) 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

As we study the Grace of God in the book of Romans we come to the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of one of the most important chapters in the Bible. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Its fullest manifestation came in the ministry of Jesus and the salvation he brought to man. Thank God that we are saved by grace not by keeping the law. We are not saved by works. There were no works that we could do that would have negated the sin nature that came upon man in the fall.

We were saved by grace through faith. No one is excluded, and no one has any right to boast. Jesus paid the whole price for the sin of mankind. There is nothing more we need to do to be saved and inherit heaven as our eternal home but believe.

Romans 7, however reveals that we still need to deal with the flesh. The law, more specifically the commandments, have not gone away. We still must not steal, murder or lie. Under normal circumstances, these things will not cause us to lose our salvation, but they do open the door to the work of the enemy in our lives. They also damage our testimony. Finally, and most important, they cause us to displease our Father.

Galatians 5:24 (NKJV) 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires..

Paul makes it clear that if we are Christ’s we have crucified the flesh. On the one hand that is a spiritual reality. In Galatians 2:20 Paul says “I am crucified with Christ.” That is reality in the spirit. Paul also wants us to know how to make that a lifestyle reality. He says that crucifixion must manifest in dealing with the flesh. If we have crucified the flesh we have dealt with its passions and desires.

The King James uses the stronger word for desires, lusts. A lust is any desire that controls. If I am Christ’s I can have desires for many things. I cannot let them control me. Somehow, I must deal with these controlling and often ungodly desires and appetites. If I do not I will never fulfill what I can be in Christ. My testimony and my destiny will be compromised. I may “miss hell and make heaven” but there is so much more to this life than just getting by and not being too bad until we get to heaven.

Romans 7 is Paul letting us know 3 things.

1. The problem is not the Law of God. The Law is good and has its purpose even in the life of the New Testament believer.

2. The Law cannot save us. It reveals what is wrong, but it is a “tutor” to lead us to something far better (Galatians 3:24-25.)

3. Even those who are saved and have some degree of maturity struggle with the flesh. We do what we should not do, and we do not do what we know we should. Keeping the letter of the Law is not the solution.

Paul’s final words in Romans 7 paint both a sad and hopeful picture. He is wretched when he lets his flesh dominate him. However, he knows that God has provided a way out. What is that way out. How can we successfully deal with the lusts and appetites of the flesh? Some would say we do not need to. Whatever we do is fine because Jesus paid for it anyway. That is a low and weak form of Christianity. Grace does not provide that for us. Grace gives us what we need to deal with the lower elements of our nature. The question is how?

We transition from one of the saddest and most confusing chapters in the bible to one of the most powerful. Romans chapter 8 has long been one of my most favorite sections of scripture. I believe Paul gives us the solution to the wretchedness of his Romans 7 condition in Romans 8.

We quoted the last two verses in Romans 7 at the beginning of this post. Look at the end of Romans 8.

Romans 8:37-39 (NKJV) 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul goes from being “wretched” or “miserable” to “more than a conqueror. He goes from not understanding his own behavior to being “persuaded” that nothing can separate him from the love of God. He goes from struggling with the flesh to victory over all kinds of difficulties. What happened to Paul in this chapter? What truth has he found that he wants to reveal to us?

He begins to show us in the first verse. We are very fond of quoting the first part of the verse. “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.” I believe in that statement. I believe it is very important as it stands. I must realize that my Father never condemns me. If I do not start there, the rest of what Paul tells us in Romans 8 will descend back into law. What is condemnation?

Condemnation in a legal sense is the state of a criminal when he has been tried and sentenced. He is a condemned man. He has no hope. He is going to suffer the punishment for his crime. There is no mercy in condemnation. He is judged a “criminal” and therefore something is wrong with him. He must be separated from society. In extreme cases he may be put to death because he is no longer fit for the world.

In spiritual terms, condemnation is the feeling that something is wrong with us. We may do something wrong, but condemnation always focuses on how we are wrong. It presses us to accept that we are somehow less than others. It tells us there is no hope. We have sinned because we are flawed and unworthy of God’s forgiveness. The result of condemnation is that we usually give up. We get worse because we are bad, flawed or faulty.

There is NO condemnation at all in Christ. Neither Jesus nor the Father will ever point to you as flawed or evil. Neither will ever say you are hopeless. Both the Father and Jesus love you with an everlasting love. They will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5.)

There is another related word that does apply to you and me. That word is conviction. A convicted criminal is one who has been judged guilty but not sentenced. We must realize that God will convict us of what is wrong in our lives. The difference is that he convicts of what is wrong but does not condemn us as unable to overcome it. He does not make what is wrong in our lives our identity. He shows us how to overcome the weakness of the flesh. Romans 7 is Paul convicted but not condemned.

So, there is no condemnation in Christ. None. Not any! However, that is not even the end of the sentence. He tells us how to get rid of the conviction that comes from both the devil and our own soul. There is no condemnation “to those who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

What changed Paul from wretched to more than a conqueror. What caused him to overcome all kinds of opposition in life. How did he stop doing what he did not want to do and start doing what his inner man knew was right? He learned to walk in the spirit not in the flesh. That is the solution. That is what grace provided in Christ.

The Problem

Romans 7:15-18 (NKJV) 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

We have been looking at one of the most important books in the New Testament. It was written by the man who understood grace better than anyone but Jesus himself. That book is the book of Romans. In our last few posts we have been examining Romans 7. I believe this is Paul’s description of his struggle with the flesh. Every believer who will be honest with himself can relate to Paul’s words in today’s verse. I like how it comes out in the New Living Translation.

Romans 7:15 (NLT2) 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

I know that describes me at times. “I don’t understand myself!” I know what is right. I want to be the best Christian I can be. I have an obligation as a teacher and a leader in the body of Christ to set an example for those around me and under me. Yet there are times when I find myself doing what I know I should not. I will rationalize my weakness. In those moments when my flesh gets control over me, I still do what I do not want to do and fail to do what I know will both please God and keep me free from giving in to the temptation before me.

There are those who have come to the conclusion that the law is the problem. We have seen in this chapter that Paul is very clear that the law is not the problem. The Law of God, especially the ten commandments, is good. It shows me my need for a savior. It defines for me what is right and what is wrong. Some believe that the solution to Paul’s dilemma is to remove the Law from any part in the New Testament Christian’s life.

However, the function of grace is not to do away with the law. The function of Grace is to help us live according to it. Paul also makes clear the truth that we cannot live according to God’s standards by keeping the letter of the law. This does not mean the do’s and do nots of the 10 commandments have become irrelevant. Thou shalt not kill still applies to us along with all the rest. Nevertheless, the change is that in salvation they are written on our hearts. Our nature changes. It is no longer against our nature to keep the law, it is our nature to keep it. This is what Paul means by the “spirit which brings life.”

In Romans seven Paul wants every believer to understand that while salvation causes an instant change in our spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) it does not automatically change the outward. We have grown up in the world. We have had experiences both good and bad that have trained us to think and act in ways that are not always in tune with God’s will or his ways.

Sometimes we simply do not know what will please God. In those instances, I think there is a great lenience in the way God Deals with us. This is true with natural parents and children. However, natural parents expect their children to grow up and become good, Godly citizens. Our heavenly Father is no different. If we remain babies simply because we do not want to grow up, that is not pleasing to God or healthy for us. The prisons are full of people who either were not trained by their parents or who refused that training.

Most of us are mature enough in the Lord to have at least some idea of what God expects. That was certainly the case with Paul in Romans 7. No one would call him immature, but he is the one who says, “I don’t understand myself.” The truth is we all have times when the flesh wins and our behavior suffers. When that happens, it is not just that we displease our Father who saved us. That is bad enough, but we also open the door to many things from the enemy. We may derive pleasure from sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25 KJV) but afterward comes guilt and the open door for satanic condemnation. God will not condemn, though he will convict, but Satan is perfectly willing to bring condemnation. 1 John 3:21 tells us that when our hearts does not condemn us we have peace with God. Our own hearts can condemn us and that is not a place we want to be.

As we continue in todays scripture, Paul makes an important statement. He says, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells.” I think in this statement, Paul is giving us the beginning of the way out of our dilemma. We must accept the fact that outside of Christ there is nothing good in our flesh. This is not condemnation. This is understanding.

That does not mean that everything about me is evil. It does not mean that everything I do that does not include praying and reading the bible is bad. It does not mean that the things I do for pleasure or enjoyment are all wrong. It means that any time the flesh controls me, it will lead me away from God and towards sin. I have to accept that when my flesh controls me it is always wrong. Always!

Of course, as Christians we know that. (At least you do now.) Even so we do what we know is wrong. We do what we do not want to do. Paul makes the true statement that if I do what I do not want to do it is not me that is doing it, it is sin that dwells within me. That is where some get the impression that Paul is saying we do not need to worry about our behavior. That is sin in me, not me. Grace takes care of that. Grace forgives it. Grace makes away for us to restore our side of the relationship, but grace does not make sin less toxic or less sinful.

Paul ends Romans 7 with a statement of which we all need to take notice.

Romans 7:24 (NKJV) 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Romans 7:24 (NLT2) 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

A Christian dominated by the flesh is not free. In the NKJV and KJV he is described as “wretched.” In the NLT he is called miserable. The dictionary defines wretched as a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state. That is Paul in Romans 7.

He is free from the letter of the Law by virtue of salvation. That means he does not have to keep all the rules and sacrifices laid out in the Mosaic Law as found in places like Leviticus. The old man is dead because of our identification with Christ in salvation. That is a fact.

The law is good, but the sin that dwells in my flesh takes advantage of the law, pushing me to do what I should not do. The law also shows me what is sinful. God wants us to know right from wrong. However, he is the one who wants to define which is which.

Paul finds that although the law is good he breaks it anyway. He does things that he wants to do in the short term but make him miserable in the long term. Sin uses the weakness of the flesh and he yields to that weakness causing him to “do what he does not want to do and not do what he does want to do.”

The result is a wretched or miserable person. Paul cries out, “Who will deliver me from this condition?” He gives us the answer in the next verse.

Romans 7:25 (NKJV) 25 I thank Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Jesus will help us. He will not leave us in this condition with no way out. He has delivered us, but he is continuing to deliver us. In Romans 8 we read some of the most powerful and important revelations in the New Testament. Join me next time.