Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Credo is Latin and it means I believe. And our word ‘creed’ comes from credo. A creed is a statement of what I believe. And the Apostle’s Creed is the oldest and shortest summary of the key points of Christian doctrine. It is an attempt to boil the Christian faith down to its very basics.
And many of us will have recited the Apostles’ Creed 100s or 1000s of times. So we will know that it uses the line “I believe” how many times? Three:
I believe in God the Father … and in Jesus Christ …
[and] I believe in the Holy Spirit …
[and] I believe a holy catholic church …”
So, after declaring our belief in the three persons of the Trinity, the very next thing we declare is belief in the church. The church, then, is clearly a very important part of Christianity.
And Q/A 54 takes this line from the Creed and summarizes what the Bible teaches us about the church. And it points out that the church is not a human invention but the design of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His body. It is His bride.
• The very first people to repent and believe following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, some 3000 of them, were “added to their number.” And ‘their number’ refers to the 120 described as the believers in Acts 1:15. So the church now had 3120 members. The Lord Jesus Christ saves people into His church.
And in the church, as we see in Q/A 55, believers “share in Christ and in all His gifts and treasures.” And so, they should consider it their duty “to use these gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of other members.” This the communion of the saints.
• And indeed, the first thing we read about the 3120 in Acts 2 is that “the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
But it only takes a couple of chapters in Acts for us to read about ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA. And you boys and girls may remember that story? They sell some property and bring some of the sale-money to the apostles but they tell them it was all the money. Sin rears its ugly face in the life of the church. And they were struck dead on the spot for this lie.
And in the next chapter, we read about some of the WIDOWS in the church being neglected because of their ethnic origins. So racism or favouritism affected life in the church.
And then, as you start to read the EPISTLES, you find one issue after another affecting life in the church.
• And so, as we saw recently as we worked through Romans 12, Paul told the believers not to think about themselves more highly than they ought, and to generously and diligently use their gifts, and to be devoted to one another in brotherly love. He said, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
• And we need to hear these words today also because it is also our natural tendency to think very highly of ourselves and to often lament the views and practices of these people. We too can fall into the trap of justifying why it is right for us to withhold our gifts from them. We can lack zeal because these people have hurt me or let me down or disappointed me, again. We can be uncaring and lazy because they are judgmental or because they don’t do church the right way, etc. We can lack joy and hope when it comes to these people who don’t take evangelism as seriously as I do. Or we can be impatient with them, and stop praying for them, because they do this or they don’t do that… And so it can go.
Now, some will object to this apparently pessimistic and depressing picture of the church that I have just described. They will say, can we not have higher expectations of the church than that? Aren’t we “new creations” according to 2 Corinthians 5:17? Are we not a Spirit-filled community? Can we not expect that as new creations with new hearts that our desires and behaviour will be pure and pleasing to God?
Well, it would be wrong for us to see this a one or the other. We are new creations in Christ. We are filled with the Spirit. The Spirit does make believers more and more like Jesus. And that is a truth we need to know and love and meditate on and grow in. Our first and most important task is to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done and is doing.
But there is good reason why after defining what the church is and explaining what the communion of the saints is that the Catechism next talks about the forgiveness of sins.
And that reason is the truth set before us here in ROMANS 7:21-25. For these verses set before us THE REALITY OF REMAINING SIN.
Until we are with Jesus, there will be old and new temptations to deal with and more things of our earthly nature that need to be put to death.
And if we downplay or ignore or minimize the reality of remaining sin, we are in trouble.
So we might say that there is a realism to Lord’s Day 21 that reflects what we find here in Rom. 7.
But as we shall see together, this is not discouraging but encouraging. This magnifies God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. This leaves us not depressed about ourselves but eager to glorify Christ and to grow in Him.
So let’s consider THE REALISM ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE REVEALED IN ROMANS 7. And we do this as we consider the realism of SIN and then the realism of FORGIVENESS.
So firstly, the realism of sin.
1. Now, I could give you an extended exposition of the context to prove to you that Paul wrote these words as a converted Christian and to summarize the flow of his argument in the book thus far. But it wasn’t that long ago that we looked at this passage together and did that. So today we simply APPROACH THIS PASSAGE FROM OUR COMMON EXPERIENCE.
a. v21 begins, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”
i. Is there anyone here shaking their head because they don’t understand what Paul is describing?
ii. Is there anyone here who does good all the time and never struggles with evil?
iii. Is there anyone here who doesn’t know what it is like to resolve not to sin in a certain way only to find yourself engaged in that exact sin moments or hours or a few days later?
iv. A. 56 talks about “my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.” Is there anyone here who doesn’t need to struggle against their sinful nature any more?
b. In vv21-23, Paul is describing the Christian life. As a believer, he recognizes that God’s law is right and pure and beautiful and holy. And he delights in the law for that reason. He wants to live a life that accords with God’s law. But he find something quite different going on in the daily realities of life. Anger, pride, lust, bitterness, falsehood – all these things are still there, constantly looking to flare up and bite you.
i. And you boys and girls might know all about this already. You have read the Bible with Mum and Dad. You have done Sunday school lessons. You know it is wrong to argue with your parents. They have told you not to do it. Maybe Dad has just prayed about how we can love the Lord by being quick to obey. And he says, “Amen.” And then Mum asks you to stack the dishwasher and the first thing out of your mouth is to argue that you did it yesterday or why can’t Billy do it? And you haven’t weighed up the pros and cons of arguing; it just gushes out. And a few seconds later, as you are stacking the dishwasher and you are upset with yourself for falling into that bad habit, again.
ii. Well, boys and girls, talk to any of the adults here and you will find them still wrestling with this same problem in one area or another, just as the Apostle Paul does in these verses.
iii. In v23, Paul describes it as A WAR BEING WAGED within him – there is one army of the lusts and desires of the old nature waging war against the other army, which is our new nature in Christ. And the war will continue until we are with Jesus.
2. So again, what is being described here is THE REALISM OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. As one commentator puts it, “There is no false assurance that we are going to go weeks or days (or even hours) without anger creeping into our souls, or lust stealing away our thoughts, or pride trying to usurp our hearts. On the contrary, I will struggle against my sinful nature all my life.”
3. So this is why Paul concludes this honest realism with the words of v24, “What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
a. And it is right that regularly, in our worship, be it public like this or in our private prayers at home, we mirror the attitude described here.
i. We should lament our wretched sinfulness.
ii. We should come to God like the Tax-collector who “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”
iii. We should pray and sing like the Psalmist who cried out, “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish … For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me … Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”
iv. There are a whole bunch of songs of praise and thanksgiving and victory in this book that we love to sing, but may we also love to sing the penitential psalms and hymns – the songs of confession and sorrow over sin. You see, properly realizing the magnitude of our sin and guilt helps us realize the scope of God’s forgiving grace in Jesus Christ.
So let’s look now at the realism of FORGIVENESS from v25a
1. The Greek word that begins v25 is the word CHARIS. It is most often translated as grace. When you come across the word ‘grace’ in your Bibles, you can be sure it translates charis. But one of the other ways that charis is used is in a thank you formula for a benefit or a kindness shown. And that is how it used here: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It is used the same way in 1 Cor. 15:57, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
a. Now, in both these verses, the Apostle is ultimately thankful for the fact that one day we will have a resurrected and glorified body that is free of remaining sin.
i. As we saw in v23, he is specific about the war going in the members of his body. And in v24, he yearns to be rescued “from this body of death.” Sin is intimately connected with our bodies (which includes the mind).
ii. In Romans 6:13, we are told, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness.”
iii. But one day, believer, you shall have a body that is free of sin!
b. But this future hope arises from a present reality. As a believer, you will have a body that is free from sin then because already now, your sins are forgiven.
c. Back in ch. 3:23, Paul summarizes our problem, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So we can’t solve the problem. Only God can. And in the verses that follow, he explores the way that God has solved this problem for us by punishing our sins in Jesus on the cross. And because Jesus bore the punishment our sins deserved, we are forgiven. Our task is to believe and receive this! And if you drop down to 4:6-7, to demonstrate that Paul was not inventing some new way of salvation, he quoted from Psalm 32. For David knew also that it is all God’s doing, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
i. So when Paul says in Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”, he is echoing David who said, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven.”
ii. I have shared this with you before but according to modern medical research we process 10,000 thoughts per day. And so, if sin is somehow attached to just a quarter of those thoughts, that would mean 912,500 sin affected thoughts for every year of life. And so, at age 7 that would be 6,387,500 sinful thoughts. “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven.”
iii. Earlier in the week, flights were cancelled at the airport because of fog. But eventually, the fog cleared and flights could resume. Now, say you arrived in Christchurch on a flight later that day and I told you about the fog but you couldn’t believe it. So you asked me to go and get some of the fog and show it to you. I would tell you that that is impossible. When fog is gone, you can’t get it back! It’s gone.
iv. Well, listen to these words from our earlier reading in Isaiah. God says, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
v. You have sinned today. And you will sin until you are with Jesus. So go to God, confess your sins, and know that He has swept them away “like the morning mist.”
But remember this also when it comes to life in the church. These people sin! But you also have a sinful nature that you need to struggle against all your life. There will be growth in you and in them, but you and them will also struggle with self-centredness, impatience, and indifference to so much of God’s glory. But God does not hold these sins against you or against your brothers and sisters. So neither should you.
• And as we read in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Amen.