I Can't or I Don't?
With an uncharacteristic boldness and a false sense of comfort, my friend declared that he finally felt free.
You see he had just heard a message on Romans 7:19 and concluded that he was precisely like the Apostle Paul. The things he wanted to do (righteousness) he couldn't do. Meanwhile, the things he didn't want to do (sin) he kept on doing.
He went on to glory in the fact that his newfound understanding and consequent "freedom" were rooted in the Bible. He told me that as Christians we would never be completely free of sin this side of heaven. But it was ok because Paul struggled just the same.
I just stood there dumbfounded. My friend, believing he was free was now in greater bondage than ever before.
I asked a series of questions with the hope that I could change his mind. "What were the things Paul wanted to do?" He answered, "good things." "But he couldn't do them, right?" "Right." "What were the things he didn't want to do?" "Sin," he said. "But this was all he could do, correct?" "Correct." "So Paul effectively said all he could ever do is sin? Is that what you're saying?" "Uh, no... I didn't think about it like that."
I followed by sharing with him the context of the particular passage. I explained that Paul had been talking about the bondage that he was under before Christ. That the things Paul wanted to do he could not do because he was unregenerate. Even in his human attempts he was still under the law and had been enslaved to sin. Meanwhile, the things he didn't want to do he didn't have the Spirit to overcome.
I went on to show him that at the end of Romans 7 in verse 24 Paul asks "Who will set me free from the body of this death?" only to answer his question in verse 25 with "Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord." In other words, I shared that Paul was contrasting his old self with his new self. He was not saying that the new Paul couldn't obey God. Instead, due to Jesus, he was now free from the bondage of his past inabilities.
My friend responded with frustration. "You're advocating for sinless perfection. That's not possible!" I simply waited... "Nobody can just stop sinning!" he concluded. After he settled down, I asked him for proof to back up this claim. He said, "Look at people. Nobody is void of sin." I responded, "I agree, but saying Christians can't stop sinning and saying they don't stop sinning are two very different things."
The Apostle Paul goes on in scripture to call people to obedience, faithfulness, holiness, etc. As I shared in yesterdays blog, Paul tells us to live to the standard (perfection) to which we HAVE (past tense) already attained (and this through Jesus Christ alone). Therefore, if Paul truly believes that the good we want to do we cannot do, he's preaching a contradictory message. Furthermore, since this is in the Bible, we would have to conclude the Bible itself is contradictory. Good luck with that!
Church, leaving sin behind even as a Christian is tough. Admittedly it's something we cannot do on our own. Praise God we don't have to, for God has empowered us through His Holy Spirit. But just because you don't obey God in moments of your life, it doesn't logically follow that you can't obey. If God says that we are free, then we are free. If God says we can do something, then we can. If God, at the same time affords us grace to err (which He does), it doesn't logically follow that we, therefore, are incapable of obedience; this is called a non sequitur.
Walking in the freedom of Christ is vital for a life of joy and peace, but we must walk in the freedom of Christ. This is a freedom from sin, not a liberty to sin. Just because you don't, doesn't mean you can't church!
Tomorrow we're going to look at a passage from 1 Peter 1. I encourage you to read this chapter and write down any questions you have related to the idea of sin and obedience.