Read Rom 7:14-25
Today, I want to talk about the grace of God and the result when grace does it work in a believer’s life, that is, transformation. The title of this sermon is “Transformers: Bear or Butterfly?” A bear may hibernate for 10 years but when he wakes up, a bear is a bear is a bear. There is no change. But a caterpillar goes into its cocoon, it emerges as a beautiful butterfly. That’s total transformation.
Salvation is not hibernation, it’s transformation.
Sure, along the way, Christians might resemble a caterfly or a butterpillar, but we are moving toward the butterfly. Transformation. The grace of God leads to transformation.
Paul demonstrates this through his confession at the end of Romans 7, a passage that you would not normally equate with transformation. There are two perspectives regarding this confession. This passage refers either to Paul’s present-day struggle with sin as a born-again Christian. OR this is pre-saved Paul when he was a Pharisee trying to please God. It is a controversial passage because both perspectives have their proponents. Ultimately, however, there are principles that are true and can be gleaned from this passage regardless of which side you believe. And that is — either you are a slave to sin or you are a slave to the Spirit of God. There is no in between. It is that black and white.
When I first read this passage in college, I was comforted. I was a baby Christian who was still weighed down and entangled with sin. And it was a great encouragement to me that there was such a thing as grace to cover over my sins. We read in v19 that Paul says that he keeps doing what he hates and he does not do what he knows to be good. He says he keeps doing the evil that he does not want to do. KEEPS DOING IT. That’s an odd confession by the great Apostle Paul. If the great Apostle Paul is being vulnerable and sharing his struggle with sin as a born again Christ follower, then I can certainly afford to cut myself some slack.
It is interesting to think about this — if Apostle Paul is being vulnerable about his current struggle with sin, then I wonder what secret sins he keeps doing that he hates? It seems like from everything else we read about Apostle Paul, he’s living a life of victory over sin and pouring out himself for God’s work. No one is perfect or sinless because we have our sinful nature to contend with in this life. But he sounds like a person who is intentionally sinning every day and just cannot help it.
If we choose to interpret this as Paul the born again follower of Jesus confessing his struggles at the height of his ministry, then it is actually quite comforting to the Christian who keeps doing the evil he does not want to do. Is this the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ that we know? That I am the same person today as before I accepted Christ into my life, except that now I just know I’m forgiven. I may have accrued a lot of service or ministry or I have spent a lot of time at church, but essentially I am the same person I was before I met Christ.
This perspective tells me that it’s okay to be a person of good intentions, because THANKS BE TO GOD IN CHRIST JESUS for delivering me — but delivers me from what? From the sound of it, maybe it means that Jesus delivers me only from future condemnation for the evil that I keep doing today and not necessarily from my current sins themselves? That’s why I keep committing the same sins over and over because I am still enslaved.
The more I studied this passage, the more problematic this perspective seemed to me. Apostle Paul goes to great lengths in previous chapters to teach that born again believers are NO LONGER SLAVES TO SIN and yet, he starts off this chapter in v14 saying he is SOLD AS A SLAVE TO SIN. Then again, in v23, Paul refers to himself as a prisoner of the law of sin at work within him. Apostle Paul in previous chapters was using this language of being a slave to sin or a prisoner of the law of sin for non-believers because they have not been set free from their sins by Jesus Christ. Paul makes this clear throughout Romans.
This is why I began to delve deeper into the second perspective with an open mind, that perhaps Paul is sharing about the time before he was saved.
Up until this point, Paul has been making a pretty bold statement. Either you are a slave to sin or you are a slave to God. Either you have entered the narrow gate and you are walking with him or you are still on the outside looking in. Either you know Jesus personally or he is just a religious figure.
Before going into the second perspective, let’s talk about what it means to be a SLAVE. A slave serves his master. Either your master is sin or your master is God. You cannot serve 2 masters. Each of us is mastered by one of these. It’s one or the other. And you obey your master. You serve your master. You honor your master.
It’s black or white. If Paul is a believer, then his new master is God. He is a slave to God. Yet, Romans 7 seems to indicate that if he were a Christian already then he was drifting back under the dominion and rule of sin. So this chapter sounds neither black nor white. It’s kind of gray. It’s in-between.
This brings us to the second perspective of Apostle Paul’s confession in Chapter 7.