24 I am an unhappy man [I am a woeful man]; who shall deliver me from the body of this sin?
25 [Forsooth] The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore I myself by the soul serve to the law of God; but by the flesh to the law of sin.
8 Therefore now nothing of condemnation is to them that be in Christ Jesus, which wander not after the flesh.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath delivered me from the law of sin, and of death [hath delivered me from the law of sin, and death].
Paul is fully aware of Saul. He speaks of the “old man”, the “woeful man”, the man trapped in sin throughout the seventh chapter of his letter to the Christians in the city of Rome. He asks the question we all – eventually – ask, “What will rescue me from this?”
His answer is “the grace of God.”
Our rescue “from the law of sin and death” is from God, not from ourselves. And because it is not of ourselves, but of God, the good news is that there is no more condemnation.
Let this soak in – you and I who are under God’s grace – are no longer condemned. We are prisoners set free. Our freedom is not because we did or do something for God, but because He did and does something for us.
Through Jesus Christ, we are saved. As Paul says many times, “let us rejoice!”
Paul writes to the church at Philippi, telling them in no uncertain terms, “I’ve got it rough!” Then he says his rough times benefit the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Paul finds himself torn between two strong desires – the better desire is to depart this life and go to Christ; the lesser is to remain behind; “to stay on in the flesh.” Unfortunately for Paul, his remaining alive “is more necessary for” the sake of the church.
That Paul is more desirous of death is obvious. He writes to the Philippians:
For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if it is to live in the flesh, this is fruitful work for me, and which I will prefer I do not know. But I am hard pressed between the two options, having the desire to depart and to be with Christ, for this is very much better.But to stay on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And because I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,so that what you can be proud of may increase in Christ Jesus because of me through my return again to you.
Yet, Paul is obviously not suicidal. Once again, he puts others above himself. He is convinced that it is more necessary for him to remain alive, so he knows he will “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” And so, Paul can readily say, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” without any hint of self-pity or drudgery. He does not threaten the church; he only reminds them that he remains alive for their sakes.
If I should climb up to heaven, thou art there; if I sink down to the world beneath, thou art present still. ( Psalms 138:8, KNOX )
A puzzle here in David’s words and in the oral rendition of the story of Job – God is everywhere! We imagine God is incapable of being in the presence of evil, but that is obviously not so. Yes, He turns from His Son at the Cross when all the sins of the world attach themselves to Jesus; but God is found even if we climb to the heavens or descend to the realms of death and hell. That the Lord comes into the presence of the Enemy, Satan is evident in the beginning moments of the story of Job.
6 One day, when the heavenly powers stood waiting upon the Lord’s presence, and among them, man’s Enemy, 7 the Lord asked him, where he had been? Roaming about the earth, said he, to and fro about the earth.8 Why then, the Lord said, thou hast seen a servant of mine called Job. Here is a true man, an honest man, none like him on earth; ever he fears his God, and keeps far from wrong-doing. 9 Job fears his God, the Enemy answered, and loses nothing by it. 10 Sheltered his life by thy protection, sheltered his home, his property; thy blessing on all he undertakes; worldly goods that still go on increasing; he loses nothing. 11 One little touch of thy hand, assailing all that wealth of his! Then see how he will turn and blaspheme thee. 12 Be it so, the Lord answered; with all his possessions do what thou wilt, so thou leave himself unharmed. And with that, the Enemy left the Lord’s presence, and withdrew. ( Job 1: 6-12, KNOX )
God’s ability and willingness to be in the presence of the Enemy is nearly as difficult to understand and accept as His ability and willingness to suffer and die. God is engaged with death and evil. To think He is not is to misunderstand Him. God does not create death and evil; but He allows both. In so many ways, He uses both. Why?
Jesus warns “few there are that find it.” The ‘it’ He mentions is “life.” Apparently, according to Jesus, the many find death easily; without trying. Why is that? Perhaps because death is our natural state; we are, indeed, in a state of perpetual dying. Jesus says,
Make your way in by the narrow gate. It is a broad gate and a wide road that leads on to perdition, and those who go in that way are many indeed; but how small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life, and how few there are that find it!
Jesus says the way “that leads on to life” is difficult to find. The gate is small; the road is narrow. He implies this way is hidden. What makes the way to life so hard to locate? What makes the gate small? Why is the road narrow?
Perdition – hell, the underworld, death, punishment – is a broad and straight path. “And those who go in that way are many indeed,” says Jesus. The way to hell is an easy road to find because we start out on it, right from birth. We walk along with others, vaguely or painfully aware of its ultimate destination – our deaths. Some of us know that death is eternal; others do not. The gate to the other path is not obvious, according to Jesus. Rather, that path is small, narrow, hidden.
Who opens the eyes?
I think Paul tells us quite clearly that God the Holy Spirit enables the few to find the way to life. Why those few? An impossible question with an improbable answer – God selects. He is under no obligation to show mercy, but He does.
Such a hard Word. Paul responds with:
14 What does this mean? That God acts unjustly? That is not to be thought of.15 I will shew pity, he tells Moses, on those whom I pity; I will shew mercy where I am merciful;16 the effect comes, then, from God’s mercy, not from man’s will, or man’s alacrity. 17 Pharao, too, is told in scripture, This is the very reason why I have made thee what thou art, so as to give proof, in thee, of my power, and to let my name be known all over the earth.18 Thus he shews mercy where it is his will, and where it is his will he hardens men’s hearts.19 Hereupon thou wilt ask, If that is so, how can he find fault with us, since there is no resisting his will? 20 Nay, but who art thou, friend, to bandy words with God? Is the pot to ask the potter, Why hast thou fashioned me thus? 21 Is not the potter free to do what he will with the clay, using the same lump to make two objects, one for noble and one for ignoble use? 22 It may be that God has borne, long and patiently, with those who are the objects of his vengeance, fit only for destruction, meaning to give proof of that vengeance, and display his power at last;23 meaning also to display, in those who are the objects of his mercy, how rich is the glory he bestows, that glory for which he has destined them.
24 We are the objects of his mercy; we, whom he has called, Jews and Gentiles alike. [Romans 9: 14-24, KNOX]
Who does this to Jesus? Is it the Romans? Is it Herod? Is it Pilate? Is it the Jews? (we hear this one, don’t we?) Is it me? Or you? Is it Satan? Is it God the Father?
“and all the while it was for our sins he was wounded, it was guilt of ours crushed him down; on him the punishment fell that brought us peace, by his bruises we were healed. Strayed sheep all of us, each following his own path; and God laid on his shoulders our guilt, the guilt of us all.”
Our sins put Jesus on the cross; that’s certain. But God the Father puts the guilt of our sins on His Son. Otherwise, we carry our guilt to the grave and beyond. Jesus’ bruises – the punishment He bears – free us from the same. Rather than anxiety, we gain peace.
Who does this? God the Father.
Do you suppose the Great Physician then decides to let us fall back into guilt? Wallow around it in like pigs? Shame on us if we even attempt to return to our squalor. For we are washed in His Son’s very blood.
Here is the key difference ( beyond the obvious that our Adversary is evil and our Lord is good ) between Satan and God — Satan offers us a wage that we earn; God offers a gift that is free and that no amount of effort or good intention can earn.
Sin offers death, for wages; God offers us eternal life as a free gift, through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul the Apostle reminds us – quite strongly here – that we are no longer underneath a weight of guilt; we are free from its power to hold us back, to keep us downtrodden, to make us ashamed. Not only are we free from guilt and its power; we are free not to sin. For even as sin gives occasion for grace, God forbid – says Paul – that we would continue in it. For how “can we breathe its air again?” he asks.
I love this image – breathing the dead air of sin. With our fascination with zombies ( in the USA, at any rate ), we likely have a visceral reaction to imagining walking among dead people, breathing the air around them. Don’t we hope to be as far away from that corrupted flesh as possible? I would think so!
“Does it follow that we ought to go on sinning, to give still more occasion for grace? 2 God forbid. We have died, once for all, to sin; can we breathe its air again? 3 You know well enough that we who were taken up into Christ by baptism have been taken up, all of us, into his death.4 In our baptism, we have been buried with him, died like him, that so, just as Christ was raised up by his Father’s power from the dead, we too might live and move in a new kind of existence.5 We have to be closely fitted into the pattern of his resurrection, as we have been into the pattern of his death;[a]6 we have to be sure of this, that our former nature has been crucified with him, and the living power of our guilt annihilated, so that we are the slaves of guilt no longer.[b]7 Guilt makes no more claim on a man who is dead.[c]8 And if we have died with Christ, we have faith to believe that we shall share his life. 9 We know that Christ, now he has risen from the dead, cannot die any more; death has no more power over him; 10 the death he died was a death, once for all, to sin; the life he now lives is a life that looks towards God.[d]11 And you, too, must think of yourselves as dead to sin, and alive with a life that looks towards God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.”