Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mark 1:1-5 - The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,

the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'"

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
- Mark 1:1-5

Beginning our study through the Gospel according to Mark

Any serious foray into a book study involves understanding some details about the author and the context in which the book was written. Knowing the conditions and experiences that led the author to take a certain viewpoint on a matter, as well as having some idea about the social and cultural dynamics of that time, are valuable tools for the reader. This is no different with our studying God's Word, and the many books contained within, or any other text, be it secular or otherwise.

Therefore, it would be prudent to learn a bit about this man, Mark, who he was, where he fits into the pantheon of people we read about in Scripture, as well as how his name was
attached to this gospel.

Who is Mark?

First off, Mark was not one of the 12 apostles. For years I thought the four gospels were written by four of the apostles. As it turns out, only two, Matthew and John, are written by apostles.

Who was Mark then? Mark (also called John Mark) was a cousin to Barnabas, the man that initially traveled with Paul to Jerusalem, as well as on his first mission trip. Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas on this trip, however there were apparently some problems among the three men as Mark left the other two during their travels. This seems to be the reason that Paul did not want Mark to join them on their second mission trip (Acts 15:36-40), causing Paul and Barnabas, at this point, to go their separate ways. (Incidentally, this is where Silas joins up with Paul, while Barnabas and Mark go back to Cyprus, Barnabas' home - and most probably Mark's family's home, though his mother lives in Jerusalem (Acts 12).) Mark and Paul later
reconciled and Paul even asks Timothy to bring Mark along with him when he comes to Rome.

The Gospel of Mark is sometimes referred to as Peter's memoirs, as it is known that Peter and Mark had a father/son relationship, at least in the spiritual sense, and Mark is noted as being Peter's "interpreter". It is even suggested that Peter led Mark to conversion at his mother's house in Jerusalem, and we know that Peter makes mention of Mark as his "son" in 1 Peter. So, Mark spends some time with Paul in Rome, then upon Paul's death Mark rejoins Peter in Babylon. There is much evidence to suggest that Mark's gospel is written from Peter's viewpoint, and much of that will be addressed as we go through this book. And much of the way passages are phrased and the particular things that Mark includes or omits (in comparison to Matthew's and Luke's gospels) also goes a good way to pointing to the intended audience, overwhelmingly believed to be Gentiles, and Roman's in particular. Again, we will look closer at these elements as we come to them.

Mark 1:1-5

One of the first things I notice about the beginning of Mark's gospel is that he omits the genealogies we find in the first chapter of Matthew and third chapter of Luke. The next thing that grabs my attention is that he immediately proclaims Jesus Christ as the "Son of God". This is the first indication of the intended audience. Matthew's audience is obviously Jewish, whereas Mark's is Gentile. Where the Jews would find it interesting to trace Jesus' human genealogy from King David (understanding that the Messiah would be of the house of David), the Gentiles couldn't care less. Mark, instead, chooses to showcase Jesus' divinity. Where the reader may have read other historical accounts of great men, this is set apart as a "proclamation" about the Son of God, suggesting to the reader that this is no mere accounting of the life of just some man, but one of a divine nature, therefore commanding respect.

Mark briefly mentions a reference to Scripture, from "the Prophets" (specifically Malachi and Isaiah), establishing John the Baptist's place in God's plan as the one preparing the way for the Christ, showing the reader how this prophecy was fulfilled by John.

He then jumps right into the story. The scene is "the wilderness" (it is the "wilderness of Judea" (Matthew 3:1), a region between the Dead Sea and the Hebron Mountains). This wilderness, by most accounts, wasn't an "uninhabitable" place, and most likely would have been used by shepherds for pasturing their sheep. It simply means that it was an "unsettled" area, somewhere you wouldn't find permanent settlements or villages, but nomadic peoples might set up camp in this area.

Anyway, down by the Jordan river, we find John preaching a "baptism of repentance" to those that have come out to hear him preach. When I read that he's down by the river preaching, I instantly conjure up the image of some old-time revival tents setup on the outskirts of town. We don't read that there were any tents, but the idea is similar. People heard that John would be preaching out there. Since John is the forerunner for the Christ, he is preaching the same gospel. He preaches of cleansing and repentance. Those that were John's disciples would most likely go on to be Jesus' disciples. And John's message of repentance and baptism (cleansing) wasn't a one-time deal, it was a lifestyle. The idea of baptism didn't start with John, it was a ritual that Jews performed when a Gentile wanted to become a Jew. There was much that they had to do, and one thing was to be baptized. It represented the same idea, the death of the old life and the birth of the new. So it is with John's baptism, in water, symbolizing the person's commitment to turn away from their sin and strive to obey God's law and strive for sanctification.

We dont' want to miss the most important message of John's ministry. He was heralding the coming of the Christ. He was sent to make the paths straight, to prepare the people. Whether some merely saw Christ's coming to be one of a more "secular" nature, one of a king that would sit on the throne and re-establish Israel's kingdom we cannot see from this passage. Yet the passages quoted from the Prophets in the second and third verses are our "decoder ring", if you will. These mention "prepare your way" and "make his paths straight". The "making the paths straight" was something that was done when it was known that a V.I.P. was coming to town. Much work would be done to the approaching roads so as to make the visitors entry safe and smooth. They would take out the "switchbacks" where possible, and generally attempt to make the road as straight and comfortable as possible. This is a picture of John's work to prepare the hearts of the people, to straighten out the crooked and twisted parts of their hearts, so as to make way for Christ to enter.

In the next post, we'll go over Mark 1:6-8.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notes, Lessons, & Observations from Jeremiah 4

I'm still reading through Jeremiah. There are "cheerier" books of the Bible to read. :)

Still, being only four chapters into this book, I cannot escape a less-than-comfortable thought: there seems to be much the same between Israel during Jeremiah's day and today in the United States.

If one has a reasonably robust devotional life, which inevitably involves being in God's Word regularly, it should not be a surprise that much of this nation (and world) has departed from God and His way. Despite this utter and complete lack for seeking to hold to His standard, there is a deluded sense of ethical and moral superiority wrapped around every politically correct, and new age philosophy that we hear and see everyday.

On one hand you have godly men and women urging us to turn away from the "idols" of this materialistic and self-centered culture, warning of the dire consequences of pursuing our own ways in everything. And on the other, you have another set of "spiritual leaders" and philosophical gurus proclaiming every "peace, love, tolerance, & oneness" message possible.
If any message of change accompanies the popular mantras of today, it's that we should turn away from those very things that God's Word tells us to pursue.

So, when I read the following passage, a little light went off in my head:

"In that day, declares the LORD, courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded."

Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, 'It shall be well with you,' whereas the sword has reached their very life." (Jeremiah 4:9-10)

Amid every distressing and worrisome event in this world, people are seeking to hear that they're doing the right thing, they're pursuing the right things, and that everything is going to be alright in the end. They want to have their ears "tickled". And the people get what they want...
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Such is what happened with ancient Israel. They had turned from God's way, they had turned to the false gods of the people around them, they pursued the things of the world, all while practicing much "religiosity". With their lips they praised God, but their hearts were far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8); all things that we see so prevalent today in America.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

Oh! that we might turn from our evils ways and run to the foot of the Cross. That we might seek forgiveness in the arms of the One that does not wish for any to perish, but that we might all find Eternal Life in His Son.

Oh! that we might stop promising 'peace' and 'goodness' from the same mouths that claim that homosexuality isn't a sin, but an "acceptable lifestyle", and that killing thousands of our unborn children every day isn't murder, but is a "woman's right", or that pornography isn't destroying our families and communities, but that it's "free speech".

"For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace.

Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown," says the LORD.

Thus says the LORD: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'
(Jeremiah 6:13-16)

Saturday, October 24, 2009


  1. How can I KNOW that I really KNOW God?
  2. How can I KNOW that I have eternal life?
  3. How can I KNOW that I'm "saved"?
Post found here:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

When Sinners Say I Do...

A few months back now, my wife and I had begun attending a book study at our church. It was during the summer, and we all know that it's rare thing if you can manage to keep a regular schedule in those summer months, as everyone has "get-togethers", birthday parties, or whatever during those good weather weekends. So, we kept having to skip our weekly meeting, until we just decided that we couldn't keep showing up every two weeks, having missed too much from the previous weeks.

Anyway, I recently picked up this book again. It is titled When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage, authored by Dave Harvey. I liked the few chapters we were able to read this summer, so now with cooler weather and more hours indoors I wanted to finish it (especially since I may only have a few more weeks with any free reading time left).

So far, there are two major concepts that have really had a convicting effect on my own heart. The first one is addressed pretty early in the book: each person in the marriage must understand and confess that they, being a sinner, are the biggest problem in their marriage. Our human nature is so adept at seeing and pointing out the sin in our spouses life, all the while ignoring the sin within our own life. And skipping over this first crucial realization, as with our response to the gospel itself, is detrimental to the entire point of this book. What good is a solution if we are blind to the true problem?

I find this to be a refreshing change from other "Christian" books on marriage. As with most secular approaches to this topic, the focus tends to be on how we can best deal with "our spouse sinning against us". That is a reality, others will sin against us. However, little to no time is spent developing that very important point that we are sinners too - not just other people.

As Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." This is the Apostle Paul admitting that he is the "chief of sinners". Our pastor put it something like this, "If someone asked for all the sinners to form a line, Paul would work his way to the front of it because he understands that he is the biggest sinner of them all".

As Christians, it is vitally important in any relationship that we have an accurate and clear picture of our own sinful condition first. We must primarily consider and evaluate our own motives and actions in each situation, rather than jumping all over the other person because of a perceived transgression on their part.

The second thing that has really sent my mind reeling is the application of a passage in Luke 6. I've read this passage before, but to have it set against my marriage and to see it applied to the dynamics of the day-to-day relationship between a husband and wife... it's been a real eye-opener.

Luke 6:27-36

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.

Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.

Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

Luke 6:27-36

The author addresses the first response that many people have to their initial introduction of this passage to their marital relationship, "But my spouse is not my enemy! No one marries their enemy." If it isn't already clear, and it wasn't to me at first either, Jesus is setting the bar higher than we're looking. We're looking for an application to help us with arguments about leaving the toilet seat up, or doing some household task, but He has set the bar much higher. In addressing how we are to treat our enemies, (returning good for evil and showing the same mercy that is shown to us daily by Our Father), Jesus shows us how we are to treat everyone.

As with everything Our Lord has revealed to us through His Word, this is "earth shattering". This is one of the core tenets of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It turns our worldview on it's ear, and it's 180-degrees from what the world teaches us. From childhood we are told that we "deserve" to be treated better; we're told that we have to stand up for our rights, and to always "look out for number 1". Jesus turns that upside-down and shows us by example how the children of God are not like this world system. I am filled with hope and joy at the thought of applying the gospel more fully to our marriage (and soon to our little family of three) and seeing the glory of God being displayed as He continues perfecting us in all things through His Son and by His Spirit.

I'm only up to chapter six in this book and I'll try to remember to share more later as I close in on the end, or maybe after I finish. If anyone is interested in reading this book too, let me know and I'll send you a copy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Matthew 7:21-23

How can I know that I'm saved? Is it because I feel saved? Or because I remember praying to "ask Jesus into my heart"? Is it even possible that anything that I've said or done has effected any part of salvation to my account? God's Word does not tell me that I can be assured of my salvation because I feel it or because I've completed of some kind of checklist of rituals or religious activity. Instead, scripture tells us to "examine yourselves to see whether you're in the faith. Test yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). There are several passages of scripture wherein we can study to help us examine ourselves, but here is just one that really got me thinking along those lines.

Jesus tells us this in Matthew 7:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'

And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
(Matthew 7:21-23)

Notice three things in that passage.
  1. They said, 'Lord, Lord'. In other words, they were professing Jesus Christ as their Lord. Many people profess to be Christians.
  2. They did many mighty works. They believed that their works in His name qualified them to enter heaven. Many people believe that being good and doing religious activities will earn them a place in heaven.
  3. Who is the only one that will enter the kingdom of heaven? The one that does the will of the Father.

How sad that so many of us calling ourselves Christians today might be described like this:
You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"
(Matthew 15:7-9)

And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men

(Isaiah 29:13)


"Not everyone" implies that some will say, "Lord, Lord", and will enter heaven. But talking the talk is not enough, if we are not walking the walk.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise...
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(Ephesians 5:15, 17)
There are those that will counter with, "but Romans 10:9 says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we will be saved!" Truly, it does say that, but not only that.
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Confession is one part - belief is the other. And belief is made evident in how you live your life. How so? Well, I could say that I believe that my house is on fire, but if you don't see me trying to get out of the burning house, wouldn't you discern that I must not really believe it? Professing belief in something, and acting on that belief are two different things.


This is a confusing thing to get into, this matter of "works". You can point to proof texts all day that, when read out of context, can build a convincing foundation in either camp. One side holds that works are a necessary component to saving faith, the other side holds that justification and salvation are entirely separated from works.

Might I be so bold as to suggest that it may be as simple as understanding this: our works can not, do not, will not earn our salvation or justification in the eyes of God; yet good works are a visible sign of a true and living faith, a distinguishing mark of genuine conversion.

I believe this is the only explanation that can seamlessly unify the following passages:
  • James 2:17-18 - So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Where we tend to go astray is trying to draw an inference from the text that isn't there.

Consider the following statement:
{faith in addition to works causes or produces genuine salvation}
Is this biblical? I do not believe so. This wording seems to suggest that faith and works are two required components needed to manufacture salvation (or presented as a "coupon" proving that God owes you). This would violate the explicit teaching of Scripture in Romans 3:28, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

Therefore, it is crucial that we understand the difference between the previous statement and this one:
{true faith causes or produces good works that validates genuine salvation}.
Do you think this statement expresses a more accurate picture of genuine saving faith than the preceding one?

Important: Let us not forget the more important part of all of this: grace.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith..."
Grace is the active agent, faith is the conduit. Salvation is by means of the grace of God, our faith is the conduit through which that salvation is effected.
" is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
The "it" = "the gift of God"; "it" = "salvation by grace". By definition, grace cannot be merited or earned; it is free. But, it is received through faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior. And we cannot even take credit for that faith. We did not effect that faith of our own accord.
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)
Simply put, when once we have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to us, and it is received as truth from the Word of God (Romans 10:14), God works a miracle by regenerating a spiritually dead heart, breathing life into us and imparting that necessary spark of faith. Unless we've actually heard the true gospel preached, it is not possible to believe.
"When it is said that faith cometh by hearing, it is not meant that all who hear actually believe, for that is not true; but that faith does not exist unless there is a message, or report, to be heard or believed. It cannot come otherwise than by such a message; in other words, unless there is something made known to be believed. And this shows us at once the importance of the message, and the fact that people are converted by the instrumentality of truth, and of truth only." (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible)
On what would we be believing if we have not heard the true Gospel? I'd venture to say that, if anything, it'd be in a "make-believe god" that we create with our own mind, one that we choose to conjur up, one that fits with our world view. We may be so set in what we're willing to accept about our god, that we simply refuse to accept the God presented to us in the Bible. At that point, we reject Him and create one from our own acceptable mold; one that allows us to feel good about our lifestyle decisions, and one that doesn't require us to admit the sin in our life. This is the gist of what is being communicated when someone says, "My god wouldn't send people to a place like Hell, my god is a "god of love", my god doesn't hate" or "My god would/wouldn't do <insert whatever here>, I don't think <some part of the Bible> is relevant for today."

The Will of the Father

Lastly, Jesus says in v.21 that the one who will enter the kingdom of heaven is "the one who does the will of my Father". Thankfully, God's Word reveals to us very clearly what His will is:
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
(John 6:40)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification...
(1 Thessalonians 4:3)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
(1 Peter 2:15-16)

So, understanding these things a little better now, how does God's Word tell us that we can know that we have eternal life? Well, Scripture tells us: examine yourselves, to test yourselves.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
(2 Corinthians 13:5)
No where in the Bible do we read that we are to trust our feelings or to ask our local preacher/elder/Sunday School teacher if we are saved. In fact, Scripture tells us that our heart is not be trusted, that it is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and we are not to trust in our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

If we cannot trust our feelings, if we cannot get assurance of salvation from our preacher or our church, to where or to whom are we to turn? Who or what can we trust in for our salvation?

Jesus Christ is the only man to ever live a perfectly sinless life. He alone is the spotless Lamb, who was sacrificed on the cross in order to take our place under the wrath of Almighty God. Through His death He purchased our atonement, paying the necessary price for our sin, and that "price" is death.

You see, God is a Holy God and His Holiness demands that justice be served for the rebellion (our sin) against His Law. There is no way that we can cover that cost ourselves (aside from an eternity in hell). The point is that there is no way we can earn a place of justification before God - the debt is just too huge. The atrocity of only one, single sin to an Infinite God is infinitely atrocious and merits His Infinite Judgment.

But here is the Good News!! Jesus Christ, being God in the flesh, was able to cover that debt. So, the ONLY way we can be justified before a Holy God is by placing all of our trust in the One that paid our fine. We sign over our life to Him, trusting Him and Him alone to be our Savior. This isn't "trust Jesus + good things I do" or anything like that. Ever heard the phrase, "only to the cross I cling, nothing in my hands I bring"? Trusting entirely in Jesus Christ and the atoning sacrifice He made on the cross is the only thing that can make us right with God.

And this involves not just saying that you accept Jesus and accept His taking the payment for your sins, but believing that He really died and that He was raised from the dead by God. It's in His resurrection that we see His power over death, and it's in our placing our life in His hands that we have no fear of death.

Jesus died, and His death satisfied the required penalty for our sin. That's all that's required - to die once. He paid that, and then He rose from the dead. And He's alive today in heaven with God. That is the hope that we have that we can be made right with God, to be made sons and daughters of the Almighty God. Only in Jesus. Trust in Jesus alone, and not on anyone or anything else.

John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. "
John 14:21 - Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." John 4:48

Morning & Evening by C.H. Spurgeon

"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." - John 4:48

A craving after marvels was a symptom of the sickly state of men's minds in our Lord's day. They refused solid nourishment, and pined after mere wonder. The gospel which they so greatly needed they would not have, instead, they eagerly demanded the miracles which Jesus did not always choose to give.

Even today, many must see signs and wonders, or they refuse to believe. Some have said in their heart, "I must feel a deep moving in my soul, or I never will believe in Jesus." But what if you never should feel it, as is probably the case? Will you go to hell out of spite against God, because He will not treat you like another?

One has said to himself, "If I had a dream, or if I could feel a sudden shock of I know not what, then I would believe." Therefore, you undeserving mortals think that the Lord is to be dictated to by you! There you are, beggars at His gate, asking for His mercy, and you dare to draw up rules and regulations as to how He shall give that mercy? You really think that He will submit to this? My Master is of a generous spirit, but He has a right royal heart, He spurns all dictation, and maintains His sovereignty of action.

Why, dear reader, if such be your case, do you crave for signs and wonders? Is not the gospel its own sign and wonder? Is not this a miracle of miracles, that "God so A)">loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life"? Surely that precious word, "let the one who wishes take the D)">water of life without cost" and that solemn promise, "the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out," are better than signs and wonders!

A truthful Savior ought to be believed. He is truth itself. Why will you ask proof of the veracity of One who cannot lie? The demons themselves declared Him to be the Son of God; will you mistrust Him?

[Derived from Charles Spurgeon's Daily Devotionals; edited only in attempt to reflect modern English]

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Lately, I've been studying the Gospel according to Mark.

Have you ever thought it interesting that when Jesus encountered a person with "an unclean spirit", or possessed by a demon, that demon recognized Him as the Son of God?

All the while, so many people today and throughout history find it so difficult to make the same determination? The Jewish leaders of Jesus' day and so many people in the world today - many of them are either (1) unable or (2) unwilling to see the Truth. Which is it, do you think?

So, I just stop to wonder why it is that while demons are seen as the personification of evil, and rightfully so, yet many people speak of the inherent goodness of the human race. The New Testament doesn't teach that demons are responsible for causing us to sin... so if we can't blame demons for blinding people to the Truth, who is to blame? The inherent goodness in people?

I don't know quite what to make of that... and please do not read anything into it. This is not, by far, the only thing I've gleaned from my study, but it is interesting nonetheless.

If anybody has a comment on this, I'd be interested to read it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Manna from heaven

My wife prepares a lunch for me everyday. If she doesn't make it the night before, she'll get up in the morning and make it, before I leave for work. There are several reasons why we do this, but two of them are: it's cheaper than eating out at a restaurant, and it's generally healthier.
And the LORD said to Moses, "I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.

When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
My wife prepares a lunch for me everyday. If she doesn't make it the night before, she'll get up in the morning and make it, before I leave for work. There are several reasons why we do this, but two of them are: it's cheaper than eating out at a restaurant, and it's generally healthier. My reason for bringing this up is in regard to my tendency to want to go out and pick up some greasy hamburger and fries, or a Spicy Chicken sandwich from Wendy's, or something from Taco Bell... pretty much anything that I shouldn't have.

Today, there I am having just finished some task at work. It's lunchtime, so I go to wash my hands (
truly, I did - they were really dirty - and if you touched dozen's of peoples' keyboards everyday, you'd probably wash your hands at least as often as I do) before I eat, and I'm thinking, "Man, I'd really like to just drive over to McDonald's and pick up one of those new Angus burgers and a large fry".

Then I stop and think about that. Why do I want to go get fast food? I have a perfectly good lunch at my desk: a turkey lunch meat sandwich, a baggie of "cheesy poofs", some canned pears, and a Kashi granola bar - a MUCH better lunch than McDonald's. Oh sure, it's not a hot & juicy hamburger and a pile of steaming hot fries... I mean, those fast food restaurants have spent millions upon millions in R&D to discover the exact combination of tastes and smells that just hook nearly every American alive today. And it works on me.

Temptation - plain and simple. That's what it is. It's not that what I have isn't good enough, or that what I want is really any better - it's just that I do not have it... and I WANT IT! Is there a person alive that doesn't understand this? If we don't have something, we want it, and maybe we get it... but then we want something else, and then something else, on and on. We're consumers. We consume. Yet, inevitably we will be unhappy with what we've consumed.

In the 16th chapter of Exodus, we find the Israelites having traveled about a month and a half out of Egypt and into the desert. They've consumed all of the food they brought with them, and now they're starting to complain to Moses and Aaron that they're hungry. Like all "children", of course, they exaggerate that they'd rather have remained in Egypt as slaves because at least they had food there. "You've brought us out into this desert only to die of starvation", paraphrasing Exodus 16:3.

Then God tells Moses, "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day". So, Moses and Aaron gather all of the people together to tell them about this.
With everyone gathered to listen, Moses says to them, "Each evening the Lord will give you meat to eat, and every morning he will give you all the bread you want, because he has heard you grumble against him. You are not grumbling against Aaron and me, because we are nothing; you are grumbling against the Lord." (Exodus 16:8)

See that? "You are grumbling against the Lord". I might grumble about my brown-bag lunch to any number of people, my wife included, but ultimately it is
not them that I'm complaining against... I'm complaining against God. As if to suggest that what He has provided me, what He decided was best for me to receive, is not good enough. Even suggesting that I know what's best for me more than He does.

There are the Israelites, complaining about having no food, and what does God do? He supernaturally provides. Every morning, when the dew dries up, there is this "fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground" that they are to pick up and this would be their bread.
Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Exodus 16:31)
The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. (Numbers 11:8)
God provides this food from heaven, they don't have to work for it (except the little effort of actually picking it up), and they get it everyday (but they get twice as much on the 6th day so they can rest on the 7th). Here we have God literally and supernaturally providing food to His people. They eat manna for the next forty years, until they are settled into the Promised Land and start reaping the rewards therein (Joshua 5:12).

There we have it - God provided bread from heaven and the people were satisfied for forty years with no complaints about food ever again, right? NO!! Of course not...
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at. (Numbers 11:5-6)

It's very frustrating, isn't it? Reading through this account, remembering that it IS 40+ years condensed into a couple books, you have to be amazed at God's patience, grace, mercy, and love for His people. And in this perspective, I can't help but be very convicted of all of the "spoiled brat-ness" that I present to Him all too often.

Consider just how amazingly blessed our lives are. Every physical and temporal need that Our Father meets for me each and every day, yet I still act like a child that just wants more and more and will pout or throw a little tantrum if I don't get it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sticks and stones...

"Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me."
I remember being told that little nugget of worldly-wisdom when I was a boy. It was intended to comfort me in the face of school-yard teasing. But you know what? I wish I could ask for a show of hands all of those to whom these words ever offered any true comfort. I say this because I think we all know that no matter what the world tells us, or we may tell ourselves, words hurt. Often, words are more damaging than physical assaults. The damage can last for years, even decades. God's Word says,
"...the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." James 3:5-8

On the Giving End

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:26-27

We can do "good" things in the name of religion, but these do not in themselves prove any true religion. The Pharisees were very proficient at this. They did many good things for others to see. However, these were merely outward acts meant to display much apparent love for their fellow brothers and sisters. You see, for example, people are capable of reciting a well versed prayer at Thanksgiving. Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..." He was understanding that we are capable of "giving good gifts", but He most importantly understood the inherent nature of man, of being evil. And yet, in that nature we are capable of doing good, but only in a selfish way; in a way that benefits us, or our children, or another self interest. All of these things can exist in our hearts where there may not be any true faith.

My point is that among all of our attempts to write our selves into that Book of Life with our good intentions and "selfless acts of religion", one tiny little thing can uncover the wolf under the sheep-skin: the tongue. When our tongue reveals our true character, it shows the true intentions and the true abundance in our hearts.

Here are Jesus' words on this very matter:

"For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:34-37

We are commanded by God's Word "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." Titus 3:2

Many of us excuse our harsh words behind a mask of "honesty", insisting that we are supposed to "tell the truth", but conveniently forget that we are called to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:25, 29

God's Word calls us to put away: "anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another" (Colossians 3:8-9)

And putting away these things isn't the end, we are to replace these things with godly character:
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." (Colossians 3:12-14)

Of course, knowing and understanding how we are conduct ourselves in the grace of God, it's yet another issue when we are on the receiving end of unwholesome talk and abuse. However, His Word is sufficient for every point in our lives:
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-22)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Doubt -- Romans 7:14-25 -- Part 2

14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.

17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Trying to understand what it is that Paul is saying here is taking me a considerable amount of time. The wording strikes me as slightly awkward - compared to everyday conversation anyway. Perhaps I'm being thrown off by the sentence structure or maybe the way the words "sound" in my head is wrong. By this I mean that just as we may not recognize any accent in our own speech, while easily detecting it in another, so it is with this wording, and I'm just having a little trouble understanding what he's saying here. I need more assistance.

So, in this post, I'm going to present everything I will reference for help on verse 18. I want to shed any preconceived ideas that I might have, and focus strictly on the context surrounding this passage.

First off, I will try looking at the original language, then a couple other translations:

οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι οὐκ οἰκεῖ ἐν ἐμοί, τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου, ἀγαθόν· τὸ γὰρ θέλειν παράκειταί μοι, τὸ δὲ κατεργάζεσθαι τὸ καλὸν οὐχ εὑρίσκω

"for I have known that there doth not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh, good: for to will is present with me, and to work that which is right I do not find," (YLT)

"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. " (KJV)

The first part that captures my attention is this clause "that is to say, in my flesh". Why does he insert this? I mean, he obviously feels that he needs to distinguish between that which is his flesh, and something that is not his flesh. But what?

Well, what do we already know, based on the context of this passage, and other things we have read in this letter to the Romans, and through the rest of the New Testament?

  1. We know that Paul is converted - he is a regenerated man.
  2. We know that the New Testament clearly delineates between "the flesh" and "the spirit" - following are just a few places where we discover something of this idea.
  3. In Romans 7:5, Paul says, "For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions [...] were at work in our members to bear fruit for death".
  4. Going on into chapter 8 of this same book, we read that there are "those who live according to the flesh" and "those who live according to the Spirit".
  5. Also, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
  6. Romans 13:14 tells us to, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires". Clearly, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ does not nullify the flesh, else there would be no need to command us to "make no provision for" it. If it wasn't still desiring what the flesh desires, it would be a non-issue.
  7. In Galatians, Paul asks the readers, "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" These are two different roads. These roads are not compatible.
  8. In Ephesians, chapter 2, we read that we were dead in our sin, all of us having "once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind", that is until "God, being rich in mercy [...] made us alive together with Christ".
So, we can see that a separation is made between flesh and Spirit. When Paul says that nothing good dwells in his flesh, he is speaking of his natural flesh. The point being here is that he is not speaking of the new life made alive by God at the moment of regeneration, but that part of him that is still the fallen man. John Gill has this to say about this:
"the apostle speaks of himself, and as regenerate; for had he spoke in the person of an unregenerate man, there would have been no room nor reason for such a restriction, seeing an unregenerate man is nothing else but flesh, and has nothing but flesh, or corrupt nature in him; and who does not know, that no good thing dwells in such persons?" -- John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Dr. John Gill (1690-1771)
Albert Barnes writes something similar:
"Does not this qualifying expression show that in this discussion he was speaking of himself as a renewed man? Hence, he is careful to imply that there was at that time in him something that was right or acceptable with God, but that that did not pertain to him by nature." -- Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Albert Barnes (1798-1870)
To sum it up, Paul makes this parenthetical note in order to clarify that when he says that nothing good dwells in him, he is referring only to that part that is the natural man, not the part that is the Spirit of God living within him.

I found this helpful commentary by Solomon Stoddard:

Every godly man has a corrupt principle remaining in him, and that principle does not lie still; but is busy and active. Though it is mortified, yet it is full of life.

  • Hebrews 12:1: "Lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us." It is like a fountain, always springing up.
  • Galatians 5:17: "The flesh lusts against the spirit."
  • Romans 7:21: "I find a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me."

The choicest saints every day find the stirrings of corruption. If they are alone, if they are in company, if they are in the works of their calling, if they are exercising themselves in the duties of religion, they are always haunted with a corrupt heart. They have a multitude of evil thoughts, desires, delights, fears, sorrows. Unbelief is often stirring; so pride and worldliness, frowardness and envy. There are many stirrings of sin that they do not perceive; but an abundance falls under their observation. A corrupt principle will stir upon all occasions; every thing that occurs will awaken it.

Therefore saints are warned to keep their hearts with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). And godly men have great occasion every day to repent, and to say as Paul in Romans 7:24: "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!"

Here is yet another helpful insight into this particular verse (v.18):
The Word of God, in describing your natural condition, represents it as so extremely sinful that while you are in it you can do nothing which is pleasing to God. "They that are in the flesh [that is, under the government of that corruption which is named "flesh"] cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). So entire is this corruption that the Apostle Paul confessed, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18). So completely is the soul indisposed by it for anything that is really good that men are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). How awful is their delusion who are strangers to real religion, and who yet flatter themselves that there is something good in them to recommend them to God. Their best actions flow from corrupt motives, and are in His sight but a kind of splendid sins.

A lengthy word from Charles Spurgeon:
There are times when the old nature is very active... You will find yourselves at one time suddenly attacked with anger, and when you guard yourself against the hot temptation, on a sudden you will find pride rising, and you will begin to say in yourself, "Am I not a good man to have kept my temper down?"

And the moment you thrust down your pride there will come another temptation, and lust will look out of the window of your eyes, and you desire a thing upon which you ought not to look, and then when you shut your eyes upon the vanity, there will sloth in its deadly torpor surround you, and you give yourself up to its influence and cease to labor for God. And then when you stir yourselves up once more, you find that in the very attempt to rouse yourself you have awakened your pride.

Evil haunts where ever you may go, or even if you just stand in any posture you choose. On the other hand the new nature will never lose an opportunity of putting down the old. As for the means of grace, the newborn nature will never rest satisfied unless it enjoys them. As for prayer, it will seek by prayer to wrestle with the enemy. It will employ faith, and hope, and love, the promises, providence, grace, and everything else to cast out the evil.

"Well," says one, "I don't find it so." Then I am afraid of you. If you do not hate sin so much that you do everything to drive it out, I am afraid you are not a living child of God. Antinomians like to hear you preach about the evil of the heart, but here is the fault with them: they do not like to be told that unless they hate that evil, unless they seek to drive it out and unless it is the constant disposition of their new-born nature to root it up, they are yet in their sins.

Men who only believe their depravity, but do not hate it, are no further than the devil on the road to heaven. It is not my being corrupt that proves me a Christian, nor knowing I am corrupt, but that I hate my corruption. It is my agonizing death struggle with my corruptions that proves me to be a living child of God. These two natures will never cease to struggle so long as we are in this world. The old nature will never give up; it will never cry truce, it will never ask for a treaty to be made between the two. It will always strike as often as it can. When it lies still it will only be preparing for some future battle... the enemy within can never be driven out while we are here. Satan may sometimes be absent from us, and get such a defeat that he is glad to go howling back to his den, but old Adam abides with us from the first even to the last. He was with us when we first believed in Jesus, and long since that, and he will be with us till that moment when we shall leave our bones in the grave, our fears in the Jordan, and our sins in oblivion.

Finally, a comment from John MacArthur:

[Paul says, I want to do what is right, but] I've got a barrier to doing this. Even though the law is spiritual, here's the contrast...I am fleshy, sarkinos. I am human, I am earthbound, I'm physical. He doesn't say I am in the flesh. He doesn't say I am totally controlled by the flesh. That's not true. Look at chapter 7 verse 5, "For when we were in the flesh, the sinful impulses which were by the law did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." We were in the flesh. I'm not in the flesh anymore. Verse 8 of chapter 8, "So then they that are in the flesh," and you need to underline "in the flesh" in 7:5, and 8:8, "in the flesh" is an unregenerate condition. And his terms are very precise here. "In the flesh" is an unregenerate, unredeemed position. He says I am not in the flesh. But he says I'm fleshy...I'm fleshly...I'm carnal.

You say, "Can a Christian be that way?" 1 Corinthians 3 verse 1, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ." Verse 3, "For ye are yet carnal, for whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal and walk as men?" He says to the Corinthian Christians, "You're're're acting in a sinful fleshly way."

We are not in the flesh, but listen, the flesh is still in us. We're no longer in the flesh in terms of being captive to it. Now look at verse 18, "For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing." He says the flesh is still there. I'm not in it but it's still in me. And verse 25, "With the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the law of sin."

You're no longer in the flesh, the flesh is in you. And that is simply a term for our humanness. It could be the same term as chapter 6 verse 12, "Let not sin therefore reign in your...what?...mortal body." It doesn't reign in your mind, it's a renewed mind that he's using the word "mind" that way in Romans 7, it doesn't reign in your new creation, your new nature, it reigns in your mortal body. And so his terms are very consistent. Sin is in our humanness.

So, after reading these comments and teachings on this verse and the related passage, I believe I have a better understanding of where Paul is going with this statement. And it's really not all that "deep". As any sane person would have to admit, one can have the best of intentions and cause unintended consequences. I mentioned in my previous post that I may enter a situation with an understanding of how I should react, only to find myself stumble in the "heat of the moment".

Applying this understanding to this verse leaves me with the following conclusion: understanding our natural tendency toward sin, and understanding that our heart and mind has been regenerated, we are left in this flesh, left to a battle between the old man and the new man. And with this understanding, we should see just how precious is the grace and mercy that He showers us with daily. His love covers our multitude of sins. How great a Savior!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Doubt -- Romans 7:14-25 -- Part 1

We all have doubt from time to time. I'm not referring to doubt about whether it's going to rain this weekend, or whether you'll make it to the filling station before you run out of fuel. I'm talking about doubting your salvation.

I'm sure there are countless reasons that the doubt enters our heads. For some I'm sure they have the idea that Christians are supposed to "have all the answers" and so there should be a fix for every problem; thus, no worries, no pain, no heartache. Therefore, when they encounter these things in their life, they doubt their salvation. I can't say exactly from where this "fantasy" originates, but I can confirm that it is, in fact, fiction - it is not biblical.

Another thing, I do know that one popular myth among professing Christians is that when you're saved **ZAP!!** you no longer sin. Again, there is no biblical basis for this belief either.

But one of the ideas that pops into my head all too often is that there seems to be so much remaining sin in my life, that I begin to doubt if I'm saved at all. For instance, many times I catch myself getting unduly angry over some trivial thing, something that holds no real bearing on anything, some perceived wrong that I feel that someone did to me, or merely an oversight on the part of a co-worker that I just know they did on purpose, just to spite me. So, I'll stew on it for a good, long while before reason resumes operating in my head, and I get some perspective, see it for what it truly is, and move on. Yet afterward, I get very introspective in trying to understand how I could let myself get that way when I know that it's not the right way to think, I know that the Bible teaches and commands me to act differently. How can one call themselves a Christian, claiming to believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and yet behave in such a manner??!!

So, I pray about this. I need to understand: is this a sign that I'm not saved, or is this "normal" for a Christian to think? On the way to work, I'm listening to a sermon on CD and the teacher mentions a passage from Romans, specifically chapter seven, versus 14-25. He mentions this and I'm pulling into the business park, so I don't get a chance to hear him expound on the subject matter in this passage, as he's just building some context around the topic. Anyway, later that morning I get some time to take a break and I look up that passage. Here it is from the ESV:

Just a quick, but albeit very important, note: this is the Apostle Paul talking here. The tense of the Greek verbs in this passage are 'present tense', so he is not talking about his life prior to his regeneration.

14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.

17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

I find great comfort in reading these words of the Apostle Paul. Why? Because I read that I am not alone.

In verse 14, that phrase "sold under sin"... I just had to look it up in the Greek.

πεπραμένος ὑπὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν = having been sold under the sin

Can we agree that Paul is speaking metaphorically here? I doubt anyone would seriously suggest that there was an actual business transaction that took place wherein Paul was sold to "sin" and was now under sin's control. He's speaking metaphorically. Remember in Psalm 51:5 where David says, "I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me"; he too is speaking metaphorically. He was not conceived in a place called "sin". He was conceived in his mother's womb, but he's simply conveying that he's been "in sin" since the very beginning of his life. Likewise, as are we all, Paul remains in his flesh which is fallen and "under sin" and its influence, just as he has been "in sin" and subject to its power his whole life.

Verse 15: Who hates their sin? The redeemed. The lost revel in their sin, they do not hate it - they do not will to do anything other than that sin, and pursue the pleasure that it sets up as a promise. But this statement suggests that Paul wills to do good, but finds that he ends up not doing it. He knowingly resists, even hates, the sin his "flesh" wills to do, but he ends up doing it anyway. What is this? Is this not all too familiar to me? Too often I understand what the right response to a situation may be, but once I'm thrust into the middle of that situation, I find myself behaving contrary to my will. Is this not the very thing Paul is saying here?

Verse 16: Who agrees with the Law? The redeemed do (Psalm 119). The lost man does not confess the law as good. The lost are aware of the law, as it is written on the heart of every man (Romans 2:15), but he denies that law and willfully rebels against it (Romans 1:18). The free will of fallen man is bent totally toward sin, and there is no desire to fight against his sin - in fact, it is his primary pursuit. How can he not? It is his nature from birth (Psalm 58:3). Until God creates a new nature in the man (Ezekiel 36:26), his free will has no ability to choose anything against its nature, that fallen nature that it is. Post-conversion, man's nature is entirely different, though he remains in the fallen flesh. His heart has a new bent, he now desires godly things and hates his sin. What he once pursued wholeheartedly and with fervent passion, he now finds repulsive and recoils from it in disgust. With this understanding we recognize when Paul says, "...if I do what I do not want..." to mean, "...I find myself doing those things that the "new man" does not want to do...", and he now, "...agree[s] with the law, that it is good", whereas the "old man" would not have agreed to this statement.

Verse 17: Paul explains that the "new man" is not approving of the sin that still resides in his flesh, as opposed to the "old man" that loved his sin. In regenerating his heart, God created a new identity, and having been "born again" this new man still resides in the old flesh. Paul is not shirking responsibility for the sin committed by his flesh, he is not distancing himself or suggesting that there is "someone else" living in his body with him and it's the "bad Paul" that's committing the sin, while the "good Paul" tries to stop him.

In studying this verse, I'm reminded of a gnostic belief that I read about in the Confessions of Augustine, called Manichaeism, that taught this very idea, leading people to blame some "inner being" for their evil acts:
I still thought that it is not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it... I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner. (Confessions, Book V, Section 10)
We must remain true to a biblical interpretation of all of scripture, understanding that the Word of God is Truth, and Truth does not contradict itself. Take for instance, when we read in 1 John 1:8-10 that we only deceive ourselves if we say that we have no sin, and/or that we have not sinned. Since we cannot set one part of scripture against another claiming a contradiction, we must understand that God's thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9), and what we may see on the surface, if apparently contradictory to another part of scripture, must not be accurate, requiring us to dig deeper, seeking to understand the true original intent and meaning of the Holy Spirit.

(to be continued)