Paul writes in II Corinthians 3:18, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (emphasis ours). Transformation is a process, as is redemption. We should be able to understand this fully from our own experiences since being converted. We know that we are not completely free from Satan and this world.
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known." This verse indicates that everything concerning salvation is undergoing a process of transformation. Human nature and this world have their hands upon us, and we have to fight them off. We know that if we do not, we will conform to them and their ways. Gradually, as we learn and overcome, the veil is removed, but a time is coming when we will have fullness of everything promised.
Paul relates his experience in Romans 7:23, "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." He writes that the law of sin brought him into captivity. A person in captivity is not free, is he? In verse 24, he continues, "Who shall deliver me [redeem me completely] from this body of death?" A person in need of deliverance is not free. Even as a long-time apostle, Paul was not truly as free as God fully intended him to be.
We see this pictured in the children of Israel in the wilderness. They were physically free—that is, they had fled beyond the boundaries of Egypt—but they were still not free from Egypt's influence, which they carried right with them in their minds and displayed in their conduct and attitudes. This is why God urges us to flee Babylon (see Jeremiah 51:6; Revelation 18:4). We cannot physically escape from its borders because Babylon's influence is worldwide, but we can escape spiritually by not permitting it to influence our conduct and attitudes.
All this means that we will not truly be redeemed until we fully come into our inheritance. Then we will be completely released from all the effects of sin, and it will be plain to all that we are indeed God's peculiar treasure.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Our Uniqueness and Time
Paul is not confessing that he continually practiced sin in his daily life, but that the threat of practicing it was always with him. He always had to be on guard against it to keep it from breaking out. And, at times, it did indeed break out, reminding him not only of its presence, but also its strength. There is no doubt Paul was a mature Christian. Therefore, this serves as a reminder to us that, no matter how spiritually mature we become, human nature will still always be with us.
Paul died spiritually and was buried in the waters of baptism. Therefore, baptism and the receipt of a new nature by which we are to conduct life do not take human nature away. We, like him, sincerely desire to do the right thing. We believe God's Word. We love God and aspire to glorify Him. Nevertheless, because human nature is always present, we do not always follow through. Instead, human nature overpowers us; we are taken captive, as it were, and revert to following its drives instead. This can be very disturbing, piling guilt upon us and making us fearful of separation from God.
Thus, because we are similar to Paul, and despite the wretchedness we may feel, we have assurance, knowing we will be delivered from this peculiar situation, one that is somewhat akin to having a dual personality. Our deliverance is through Jesus Christ; there indeed is an end. However, unlike many Protestant groups that proclaim that we do not have to keep the law because all is done for us, we know that we must strive to walk even as Christ walked—and He never sinned. I John 2:3-6 emphatically states:
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
Though we are under no condemnation, we still must yield to the Spirit of God to our utmost abilities. We are to "go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1), endeavoring to grow "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). Paul says, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). Despite the difficulties involved, any failures that occur, and any feelings of guilt that arise, we are still required to strive to keep God's laws as Jesus did.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Seven): The Sin and Trespass Offerings
Though converted for about twenty years when he wrote Romans, Paul comments in verse 17 that sin sufficiently strong enough to pull him in the wrong direction still remained in him. In verse 18, he leaves no doubt that sin was still in him. In verse 19, he admits to occasional sin, and in verse 20, he again states that sin still existed in him, and in verse 21, that evil was present with him. In verse 23, he says that a war raged within him between the law of sin and the law of his mind, and he mentions these two again in verse 25.
The evil that lived in him was the remnant of what he had absorbed of Satan's world before his conversion on the road to Damascus. The law of his mind was his new heart from God that he desired so strongly to rule his life. The war was between the remnant of Satan's world and his new heart. Galatians 5:16-17 confirms this last thought:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Each influence on his mind was communicating to him. This is why we cannot physically escape Babylon. It has left its mark on our perspectives, attitudes, and characters; we carry it with us regardless of our location. Nevertheless, our escape from Babylon can be accomplished because, if it could not, God would not have commanded us to do it.
We achieve it by choosing to allow the law of our mind to triumph against the law of sin and death, even though to do so may require many painful sacrifices during the battle. Where does one find the strength necessary to make the sacrifices required? What might we need to supply us motivation?
First, we need to consider a vital promise. Paul proclaims in Philippians 4:19: "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ." This assurance could just as easily been read as, "He shall supply all our need gloriously!" It is full of exuberant expectation.
What do we need? We need faith in the fact that God is, that He is indeed with us personally and individually, and that His Word is true and absolute. In addition, we need vision and hope regarding the value of what is to be gained or lost through making the right choices. We need much more, but certainly not least, we need God's love for Him and fellow man.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
Was Paul a novice in the faith when he wrote the book of Romans? God would hardly allow a novice to write Scripture. The apostle Paul was one of the most mature Christians who ever walked the face of the earth. But he saw himself being torn—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Paul was in the middle, having to make the choice. If he had not grown spiritually, he would never have seen the conflict; his mind would have passed right over it. Thus, on the one hand, Paul delighted in his understanding of the purpose and perfection of God's law, yet on the other, that insight produced much dismay in him because he could see how far short he fell, from time to time, of its perfection.
The existence of this inward conflict is not a sign that the person is not sanctified. As long as we are in the flesh, we will never be entirely free of this struggle. Human nature does not go down without a fight. It must be overcome! In a way, this evil entity within us actually becomes part of the means of our perfection.
Overcoming is a long process, and it requires diligent and humbling effort to subdue our human nature. However, we must never allow ourselves to fall into the attitude that all of our effort is somehow justifying us before God—even though it pleases God and gratifies us. The holiest of our actions, the holiest of the actions of the holiest saints, are still full of imperfections and defects. Even some of these are done from the wrong motive. They could even qualify as being nothing more than a splendid sin in God's sight. Nevertheless, we are saved by grace through faith. Even with that, God requires that we make an effort to do what we can on our part.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 9)
There are seven days of Unleavened Bread but only one day of Passover, Pentecost, Trumpets, and Atonement. God knows that we tend to change slowly. He gives us seven days each year to concentrate on our duty to rid our lives of sin. Those acts that are God's responsibility - the sacrifice of one for all sin, the sending of His Spirit, the resurrection of the dead, or the binding of Satan - He can accomplish in one day. The part that involves mankind's participation - overcoming sin - requires more time and attention. The Days of Unleavened Bread represent a period of judgment when man is required to overcome. To us, overcoming a deep-seated sin can seem to take an eternity! The obvious lesson is that we must draw much nearer to the Source of the power to overcome.
Holy Days: Unleavened Bread
There is something sobering in the instruction Jesus gives here. What was the cross or stake in reality? Was it not the instrument of Christ's death? It is what He was killed on. Certainly, He was killed by sin. We could carry that further, but the actual instrument of His death was the cross. He had to carry His own instrument of death with Him. He stumbled under it, and another had to help Him.
That equates symbolically with something that we carry with us everywhere. What is the instrument of our death? Sin. Sin lodges in the mind. The apostle Paul says in Romans 7 that he found sin still within him. Here is a converted man, an apostle of God, long after he was called, yet sin still lived in him. Every once in awhile, it would get control over him, and he would find himself under its domination once again. That cross that we have to bear and carry with us right to the grave is our own mind laden with sin! Sin lies at the door, as God said to Cain (Genesis 4:7). It is at the door of our minds all the time. God has given us an interesting challenge: Everywhere we go our cross is with us. It is sobering.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Freedom and Unleavened Bread
Do we not believe that Paul was a sincere and dedicated example of a fully committed Christian? Yet, his testimony confirms that we have to face and accept the humbling fact that sin, as long as we are in the flesh, forever stains our character. We will never be rid of it until our change in the resurrection. Can we accept the fact that no amount of personal exertion to purge ourselves of sin will be completely effective? Paul did, and it led him to be thoroughly humbled and thankfully aware of God's mercy.
However, it did not cause him to disregard whether he sinned. Paul resolved not to sin because he loved Christ for what He had already done and continued to do every day. As a former Pharisee, he understood that super-righteousness (Ecclesiastes 7:16) on his part would never work.
In I Corinthians 15:8-10, he makes a telling statement about how he judged his past before his conversion:
Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Paul had a firm understanding that super-righteousness could not replace what Christ had already mercifully done in his behalf, and nothing he did could ever replace it. He used this as an example, as a prod to himself, so he would never forget exactly where he stood in terms of being gifted by God's grace. It took a perfect Sacrifice to pay for his past sins and also those he continued to commit as a Christian! Despite sin still being a part of him, he says, “I am what I am by means of God's grace.” He valued what was done on his behalf so deeply that he never let his appreciation lag.
He adds in Romans 4:4-8
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.
Do we truly understand that we cannot add to the quality of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lived without sinning His entire life? When His pure righteousness is accounted to us, we stand before God blameless because of His sinlessness. Even our righteousness done through our obedience following baptism and receipt of God's Holy Spirit lacks the purity of Christ's righteousness imparted and accounted to us, because our righteousness is still tainted by sin that remains within us.
I Corinthians 1:26-31 contains a truth of supreme importance to us: God called the weak and base of the world, and no flesh will ever glory in His presence. This is why our integrity must be guarded by humility because our obedience—given because of God's mercy and which He graciously accepts—is still flawed.
None of this removes our responsibilities regarding our continuing sanctification; it does not do away with our accountability to obey God's law and grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We do not stop learning, obeying more perfectly, and maturing within the relationship that we now have with the Father and Son. Nevertheless, we cannot add to the righteousness of Christ. It is futile even to think such a thing—and that is why it is dangerous.
Upon receiving God's Spirit, attitude is of major importance. Conversion is a matter of a changed heart combined with more perfect knowledge of His truth. It is a matter of knowing, believing, living in, and accepting our place within the relationship. It is a matter of submitting with all our heart to the Father's placement of us within the body. A person with wisdom will know he must not go beyond what the relationship will permit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Romans 7:23:
2 Corinthians 13:5
1 John 1:7