Sunday, July 20, 2008

Does the Conflict ever End?

My reading of Oswald Chambers today has led me to Romans 7 and 8. Chambers looks at three other passages but his teaching on Romans 7 is where I’ve become bogged down.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. ... So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. Romans 7:14, 15, 21-23 NIV
For me, the confusion of this passage is this: At what place in a believer’s life is this true? I’ve always understood it to describe the ongoing life of a committed believer. Who else delights in God’s law? But it seems that not everyone sees it that way and so I wonder what Paul was trying to say. One group I studied with believes this conflict occurs only in the unregenerate, and Chambers writes, “The 7th of Romans represents the profound conflict which goes on in the consciousness of a man without the Spirit of God, facing the demands of God.”*

But again I ask, Who can delight in God’s law without the Holy Spirit? Who even cares about God’s law without God’s Spirit moving in them? Chambers himself writes, “A worldly man...is not conscious of any conflict between the Spirit and his flesh.... No man knows he has that enemy on the inside until he receives the Holy Spirit.”

Chambers seems to see four distinct stages in the spiritual life:

Before the Spirit comes, following Jesus seems foolish.

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him....” 1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV
Chambers writes:
“The natural man is not in distress, not conscious of any disharmony in himself; he is not ‘in trouble as other men,’ and is quite content with being once-born. ...[he is] having a good time.... There is nothing attractive about the Gospel to the natural man. ... Conviction of sin is produced by the incoming of the Holy Spirit because conscience is promptly made to look at God’s demands. ... The coming of Jesus Christ to the natural man means the destruction of all peace that is not based on a personal relationship to Himself.”
Yes! This is why it is of no use to tell a non-believer that they need to stop sinning. I’m thinking, in particular, of the Christians who attack homosexuals for their lifestyle. Why would a homosexual give up a lifestyle she is quite content with? That answers the cry of her heart? That meets her needs in a way nothing else ever has? She won’t! But introduce to her a loving God who wants to be in relationship with her and she may become open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in her.

We become divided between the Spirit and the natural.
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7: 14, 15 NIV
Is this indeed “... the profound conflict which goes on in the consciousness of a man without the Spirit of God, facing the demands of God”? If the Spirit of God comes to me when I invite Jesus into my life, and I do not care about the demands of God until that point, where is the absence of the Spirit in this conflict? In fact, Chambers says that “conviction of sin such as the apostle Paul is describing does not come when a man is born again, nor even when he is sanctified, but long after, and then only to a few.” So when does this conflict take place, before the Holy Spirit comes into my life or long afterward?

One thing he says I have experienced and know to be true: “...only as sin goes do you realise what it is; when it is present you do not realise what it is because the nature of sin is that it destroys the capacity to know you sin.” I wrote about this in yesterday’s post, “Emotion.” I did not realize the sin I was in with Pearl until I left her. It was only afterwards that I realized the enormity of what I had done and wept for the distance I had put between me and God.

The conflict ends because the “flesh” or natural man dies.
Chambers uses two passages to illustrate this:
“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Galatians 5:17 NIV

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:24 NIV
The first verse supports the belief that we continue to have conflict between right and wrong and yet Chambers says, “To take this as the experience of full salvation is to prove God not justified in the Atonement.” How so? He answers, “If I do not put to death the things in me which are not of God, they will put to death the things that are of God.” Agreed. The Bible is clear that a death in us must take place, as the second verse above declares. But what does this death mean? What does it imply? Does it mean that conflict between the Spirit and the natural ends?

And yet Jesus experienced the same conflict that we do: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV) What is temptation if it is not a conflict between right and wrong, godly and ungodly?

We are “presenced with Divinity.”
“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Peter 1:4 NIV
Does participating in the divine nature mean that the conflict is gone? It cannot if we believe that Jesus was both divine and human. In the verse above, Peter is not saying that we won’t have evil desires (which conflict with God’s desires). He is saying instead that, despite those desires, we will escape the corruption they cause.

Chambers argues that “Jesus Christ’s one aim is to bring us back into oneness with God.” True. Does that oneness with him mean our inner nature is no longer fighting God? Perhaps, but again I point out the temptation that Jesus encountered—in every way that I do—yet he asserted that he and the Father were/are one.

“Am I willing that the old disposition should be crucified with Christ?” Chambers asks. “If I am, Jesus Christ will take possession of me and will baptise me into His life until I bear a strong family likeness to Him.” This is what I want. In the end, does quibbling over the meaning of certain verses change the outcome of what all true believers desire? I don’t think so. We all agree and desire that Jesus and his Spirit take possession of us and fill us so that, in the end, Jesus can be seen in each of us.

Lord, my “fleshly” desires continue to war against what I long for in you, and there are times when I give in to those desires—such as when I go to food or a particular environment for my comfort instead of to you. But I don’t want those desires to win, Lord. I want to be yours and yours alone. Continue to live in me, to possess me, to change me into someone who reflects you. Unblock my ears and keep them open so I can hear your whispers of what I should do and believe, and keep free my will to obey so that I do and believe that which you whisper to me. Thank you, Jesus!



*All quotes from Chambers in this post come from “Personality—1” in “Biblical Ethics” in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers pages 115, 116

2 comments:

Di said...

(((((((((((Debbie))))))))))
Thank you for this. Romans is my favorite book, and chapter 8 is my favorite chapter. I always love reading more about it.

And I was very blessed by your prayer. Seems I'm in the wilderness again and really needed it.

Debbie Haughland Chan said...

The wilderness is a hard place to be but it's also a place where we're more open to God because of our need. {{{{{Di}}}}}