Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tension in the Christian Life

"I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor that which is evil, and I would cleave to that which is good. I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon I shall put off mortality and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, what I wish to be, and what I hope to be, yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was, a slave to sin and Satan; I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge, 'By the grace of God, I am what I am.'"

- John Newton

In light of Josh's post on the pre-regenerate work of the Holy Spirit I thought this quote on the tension that remains even in the regenerate heart was apt, so I thought I would share it with you.


John Lucas said...

Jamie, that tension is certainly there and while i have seen Newton's quote many times this is the first time in its full form. Thank you brother.

I would like to pose a question (don't cringe :)). In speaking about the tension of the regenerate heart and the contiual battle with sin that is clearly present in the Christian walk, Romans 7 is a pertinent text. Yet it is heavily debated as to whom exactly Paul is referring. Since you and Josh have studied Romans in much greater detail than I, would you commment on the interpretation of Romans 7 and the regenerate Saint's battle with sin. Or, is this Paul's battle, or a hypothetical battle that faces the unbeliever (or other views)?

Joshua Owen said...

Jamie, I'm glad to see that John Owen's words made you squirm a little, as they make me. Believe me, the hardest thing about reading Owen is not his syntax, but having my pretenses stripped away so that I examine my own knowledge of the Savior. Some have criticized the Puritans for causing the saints to be troubled about assurance. But I'll tell you how I feel after being discomfited by Owen's/Scripture's spotlight; I'd rather have my assurance shaken and then renewed, than to die with a false assurance. Owen was greatly concerned that we treat our sin too lightly. He was concerned that we ignore the warnings of Scripture not to make our faith ship-wreck. I wonder if we have as much to say about this in our preaching/teaching as the Bible does.

John, I believe Romans 7:6 presents two ways to live, namely, the newness of the Spirit and the oldness of the letter. I think that Romans 7:7-24 describes what life is like when lived according to the oldness of the letter. Romans 8 describes life lived according to the newness of the Spirit. The unbeliever is confined to living the former way. The believer, however, is not in the flesh but in the Spirit (8:9). Therefore, he lives in the new way of the Spirit. Having said that, it is certain that none of us, including Paul have fully apprehended (Philippians 3:12). Like the Galatians, having begun in the Spirit, we are often tempted to be made perfect by the flesh. Therefore, the believer will find his experience to be like that of Romans 7.

When I find myself in the frustration of Romans 7 (which is regular) I know that I am not walking in the Spirit. For, "If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). Owen calls for a "strict and universal watch" when battling sin. It is not enough to go after this or that sin. Rather, we must be violently pursuing God in Christ with absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit. Doug Moo (NICNT) takes a similar position in his commentary on Romans.

I have a hard time seeing how life in the Spirit can be reconciled with "I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin" (7:14), in light of the declaration that "sin shall not be master over you" (6:14).

Yet I don't believe an unbeliever can say "I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man" (7:22), when "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so" (8:7).

I'm not sure that it is as easy as saying that Paul is describing his pre-conversion or post-conversion experience. I think we can say that he is warning us that we can slip into a manner of living, dependent on the flesh, that is as lifeless as our pre-conversion life.

I hesitate to publish these remarks without further reflection, but for the sake of conversation, here goes.