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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Greatest Sermon Ever Written: The Personal Battle: Only God Can Make You New
Text:Romans 7:5-8:4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Conversion
 
Added:2023-01-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Romans 7:5-8:4

Text: Romans 7:5-8:4

 

THE GREATEST SERMON EVER WRITTEN: THE PERSONAL BATTLE: GOD ALONE CAN MAKE YOU NEW

  1. The Law Cannot

  2. You Cannot

  3. Only the Spirit Can

 

  1. Psalm 30: 1-3

  2. Psalm 109: 1, 9, 11

  3. Before the Throne of God Above: 1, 2

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Hymn 47: 3-5

  6. Before the Throne of God Above: 3

 

Words to Listen For: pronouns, oracles, olympian, slaying, panoramic

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. Is this text about Paul’s struggle BEFORE or AFTER he was saved?  Why?

  2. Is there anything good about the law?

  3. How often do we try to live the Christian life in our own strength?

  4. What power do Satan, his demons, and our old nature truly have?

  5. What are the 4 glories outlined at the beginning of Romans 8?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

In our last sermon in this series,  we heard all about the cosmic battle.  You can see by the theme this afternoon that this follows directly from that.  The Cosmic Battle is replaced by the Personal Battle.

And it is vitally important that we know this.

  • There is a Cosmic Battle - God fighting against Satan, and He will have the victory.

  • There is a Cosmic Enemy - Our old master, the Devil himself, the one who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning

  • And there is a Cosmic Saviour - Jesus Christ, the one whose death won our freedom. The One who went into our dungeon armed with only a cross.

This is an epic story of grand proportions.  And that’s without even learning about the armies of these two cosmic forces…we didn’t hear about the principalities and powers, the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…that’s on Satan’s side…against God’s army, the army of angels, led by the angel Michael, the cherubim with their two wings and four faces, the seraphim, literally “the burning ones” with their six wings.

A truly epic story on a scale like nothing else in the universe.  There are no greater stakes.

And yet.

What makes a good story?  What makes THE BEST STORY?

One that has cosmic stakes and yet is very intimate.  One that is big and bold and flashy, but one in which you know and love and understand the characters.

And this is that story.

  • There is a cosmic battle - over the universe…but there is also a personal battle, over your soul.

  • There is a cosmic enemy - Satan…but there is an even closer enemy, a more personal enemy…we heard about him last time, the sleeper agent, our old nature, dwelling inside of us, trying to once again corrupt us

  • There is a cosmic Saviour - Jesus Christ who chooses and saves and protects millions and billions of people, bringing them into His church…but He is also your personal Saviour.  He knows your name.  He chose YOU to be His Son.  To be His daughter.  He knows the number of hairs on your head and all of your thoughts.  He came to save the whole church…and He came to save each member of the church.  Personally.

It is as St. Augustine so powerfully said: God loves EACH OF US as if there were only ONE OF US.

If it had only been you…if you were the only single solitary member of the church…Jesus would have still come and died on the cross to save YOU.

As we continue this afternoon in 

THE GREATEST SERMON EVER WRITTEN: Learn now about THE PERSONAL BATTLE: GOD ALONE CAN MAKE YOU NEW.  We will see that 

  1. The Law Cannot

  2. You Cannot,

  3. Only the Spirit Can

 

THE PERSONAL BATTLE: GOD ALONE CAN MAKE YOU NEW.  The Law Cannot.

What is before us this afternoon is what some have called the Struggle of the Saved Soul.  What we have here is an expanded explanation of our third point from this morning.  Life in the Enemy’s camp.

What exactly is life like in the enemy’s camp?  Remember, this is the enemy of our sinful nature.  Life in God’s camp.

We get a bit of Paul’s autobiography here in chapter 7.  We see that with the constant use of “I,” “me,” and “my.”  49 times in our text we see these first person pronouns.

This is Paul’s spiritual autobiography.  We already know his physical, his outward biography in various places, “former a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” … we know that the Apostle Paul used to be the persecutor Saul of Tarsus.  But here we get to see the inner life of the Apostle Paul.

And I say the Apostle Paul because this is Paul AFTER HE WAS SAVED.

There are those who say that this was Paul as a Pharisee.  This has to be pre-Damascus road Paul.  This isn’t Paul the Apostle, but Saul of Tarsus.

And what they do is they point to the the struggle with sin.

Verse 15 - For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

And again in verse 19 - For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing

And they point also to the despair in verse 24 - Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?

They bring out these verses and say, “See!  This couldn’t be the same man who rejoiced in Romans 6 about being freed from sin!  This can’t be the same man who in Romans 5 rejoiced in peace with God!”  And then they rest secure in their argument.

But this is a wrong and even dangerous view.  Treat this view with a lot of skepticism.

First of all, as we heard last time, we have an old nature.  An old nature that is mentioned all throughout the New Testament, an old nature that is at once crucified with Christ, but also one that we are commanded to put to death every day.  To re-crucify!

Secondly, we know that the process of sanctification is exactly that: a process.  We are not made immediately perfectly holy!  The old nature is DYING and the new nature is COMING TO LIFE.  This happens over time.  The Holy Spirit is MAKING US HOLY.  That’s why He’s called that, you know.  He is the Holy-Making-Spirit.  The Sanctifying Spirit.

This is why it’s WRONG…but why is it DANGEROUS?

It is a dangerous view because then any Christian who struggles with sin, even once, any Christian who gives into temptation even once, has absolutely no hope.

Every Christian who feels burdened by his or her sins, any Christian who cries out over the brokenness of his or her life is, according to these people, not a real Christian.

It’s just like the utterly ridiculous statement that “real men don’t cry.”  What NONSENSE.  What HOGWASH.  What…other words I should not use from the pulpit.

Does the average man cry less than the average woman?  Maybe…but to say that real men don’t cry…absolutely destructive.

And this is exactly the same.  REAL CHRISTIANS DON’T STRUGGLE WITH SIN.

WHAT?  No!  What more can you do to kick someone when they’re down?

It is the mark of a Christian to struggle with sin.  Because we have two options in this life where we are not yet perfect.  We struggle with sin, or sin wins.  I’ll say those two options again.  Either we struggle with sin, or sin wins.

And the Law…well…unfortunately the law cannot help us.  The Law is not our Saviour.

This is vital for Paul’s audience here.  Remember what we heard before.  The Roman church was a mixed congregation.  Jews and Gentiles both.

The Jews had grown up with the law as their Saviour, and the Gentiles, when they came to believe, they were told by the Jews that they too had to follow the law.  The Jews were born into the law, and you could say the Gentiles were RE-BORN into the Law.

But Paul says NO.

The Law is not what it’s about.

Verse 5 - For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

This is a scathing and serious indictment of the law!

Is Paul saying that the Law makes us sin?

No, we have to trace Paul’s argument here.  There’s no point in doing this if were simply going to skim across the top of Scripture instead of diving deeply into it.

For while we were living in the flesh

Ah.  While we were in the dungeon of sin as we heard last time.  Corpses, chained to the wall.  When we were HELPLESS, the law came in.

God’s law came in.  On the loudspeaker from the castle we just fled from: “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.  THE KING OF THE CASTLE SAYS YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”

Well, what would a corpse that has been brainwashed to hate the King in the castle do?

There’s only one answer here: “COVET!”

The King says no, my flesh says go!

What’s this “coveting” you speak of?  Sounds like fun!

 

Verse 7 - What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?

After all, in Romans 6 we heard in verse 19 that lawlessness leads to more lawlessness…and here the law leads to lawlessness.  So…is somehow then the law itself lawlessness?  Is the LAW SIN?

BY NO MEANS!

Again, just as Paul was getting all fired up at the beginning of chapter 6 about those who want to compromise the gospel of grace, now too is he metaphorically pounding the pulpit.  BY NO MEANS!

And why?  Because the law is one of the oracles of God!  Because the law, as Paul will later say is holy and righteous and good!  HOW DARE YOU CALL WHAT IS GOOD EVIL?  HOW DARE YOU CALL WHAT GOD HAS SAID SIN!

What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.

Never underestimate Satan’s desire, and even Satan’s POWER to twist what is good.  To corrupt what is pure.

The law came from God as a love-letter.

 

We typically draw these distinctions between law and gospel as if we haven’t read a single word Paul has ever written.

THE LAW IS SIN…we say.

THE GOSPEL IS SALVATION!

Have you read Romans 7:1?

The Law is sin?  BY NO MEANS!

There was a question at a classis exam a few weeks ago where the student was asked “Is there anything good about the law?”  And I waited with baited breath for the student to answer.  What would he say?

“Yes absolutely!  The law reveals to us the heart of God!  The law informs our walk of thankfulness!  The law reveals to us our need for Jesus Christ!  There is a lot of good in the law!”

And…exhale.  He got it right.

This is the view we must have of the Law.

No matter how it was used and twisted by Satan, the Law IS GOOD.

The Law reveals to us the heart of God.  When God says “Do not covet” He reveals His wise and generous heart.  He gives to us what we need, and so much of the time, far more than we need.  It is not necessary to lust after the gifts He gives to others.

When God says “do not commit adultery” He reveals His heart for purity, and especially His heart for women.  Treat women gently, nurture them, love them…not because they are FRAGILE, but because they are VALUABLE.  Women are the glory of men and must be treated as such.

The Law is GOOD.  It tells us how we are to walk, but it does not give us the ability to do so.  The Law is A gift from God, but not THE gift of God.

Verse 13 continues Paul’s utter rejection of those who despise the Law.

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me?  BY NO MEANS!

Again, pounding the pulpit.  BY!  NO!  MEANS!

It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

Instead of sin being merely IMMORAL, when the commandment came, it became ILLEGAL.

The Law did its work properly.  It revealed the heart of God, it showed us how we are to walk, and it left us wanting.  It left us needing and desiring something else.  SomeONE else.

The Law could not save us.  That’s not what it was designed to do.  But what about our own strength?  What if we tried REALLY REALLY HARD?  Our second point.

What if we try really really hard to be good?  To be perfect?  To do better in our own strength?

One of you, or all of you will scoff and say, “Well, I know where this is going!”  Well, that’s good…if you didn’t I’d be a little concerned for you.  I HOPE you know where this is going.

But we’re still going to go through it because, despite our knowledge, despite what we know about what the Bible says - that we are helpless and hopeless in ourselves, that it is in the power of the Spirit that we can do anything good, that the good deeds we do by the power of God are also planned out for us by God…despite all of this head knowledge…how often don’t we try to do it on our own?  How much of our Christian life is lived in our own strength?

  • I just have to be smarter next time that the Devil tempts me.

  • I just have to try harder.  I know!  I’ll develop a Bible reading plan.  Every time I feel tempted, I’ll read a passage of Scripture!

  • Every time I’m tempted, I’ll go for a run, literally running away from Satan!

  • Every time I sin, I’ll be sure to do a really good deed to make up for it.

 

  • Should you be smarter?  Probably!

  • Should you try harder and read the Bible more?  Absolutely, reading Scripture when you’re tempted is a great idea!

  • Should you literally run away from temptation?  Sure!  If you’re in a situation where you’re tempted, leaving that situation can really help!

  • Should you do good deeds?  Absolutely you should!  You should love your neighbour as you love your God!

 

But…in all of these things…all of these GOOD THINGS…you will not find salvation.

  • The smartest men and women in the world still sin.

  • Monks who read the Bible for hours a day still sin.

  • The greatest olympian runners still sin.

  • The most selfless and kind people still sin.

You can’t do it on your own!

This is the problem.  We read it in verse 14 - For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

Wait a second!  You said that we were SET FREE from Satan’s dungeon.  Verse 18 from last time - having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness!

Very true! I said that, Scripture says that, but remember that we do not only have a COSMIC ENEMY, we have a PERSONAL enemy.  Now, Jesus Christ, through His Spirit can be present in each of our hearts, but Satan is not nearly so powerful.  He is not omnipresent, and he has a certain number of demons at his beck and call.  When you are tempted, it’s not likely that Satan himself is whispering in your ear.  A demon perhaps, they do exist, they love to torment God’s people…but far more likely, what is going on is what I called, if you remember, a SLEEPER AGENT.  The internal enemy.

You know who it is?  It’s YOU.  It’s your OLD NATURE.  You have been raised out of that shadowy graveyard, taken into God’s camp, claimed by Him, washed clean, marked with His seal upon your soul, all of this, ABSOLUTELY TRUE.  And yet, our old nature is something that still exists.  We are sinful saints.  Both of these things at once.  A sinner and yet a saint.  Sinful and yet Holy.

And we see that this is exactly what Paul means, because he goes on

Verse 15 - For I do not understand my own actions.

There are clearly two natures at work here.

For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

In Paul’s spiritual nature, he recognizes sin.  He hates sin.  He fights against sin.  What he wants to do is to do good, he wants to do what is right and pure and holy.  He wants to follow the law of God!  But his sinful nature gets in the way.

I do not do what I want

When confronted with doing a good deed, when we come across an opportunity that God has laid in our path, to be kind, to be gracious, to be forgiving and charitable, our sinful nature comes in, slyly, just like its father the devil.

Being kind is too much work

Being gracious to her?  She’s not gracious to me!

Forgiving?  No, throw the book at him!

And sometimes, when we depend on our own strength, we listen.

And just so the other aspect.

When we encounter temptation.  We compare the temptation to the Law and we say: THIS IS WRONG.  I will not give in!  But our sinful nature comes in yet again.

Oh it might be WRONG…but it’s so much FUN!

Oh, it’s against God’s law…but grace is free, right?  Sin, that grace may increase!

Nobody’s looking…just do it!

And sometimes, when we depend on our own strength, we listen.

And where does this lead?

Unfortunately we can’t be here all day, and so we must skip over the next verses which go through this more deeply.  Skip ahead with me to Verse 21 where we see the conclusion of the matter.  A summary really.

So I find it to be a law - and let us be careful here, when Paul uses law here, he isn’t talking about the commandments anymore.  He isn’t talking about God’s law.  But rather, this is a ruling principle, like a law of nature.

“I find it to be a law, that after summer comes fall.”  That kind of thing.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

And then Paul goes further.  Not just close at hand…not just beside me, whispering in my ear, external temptation…

But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

In this verse, verse 23, we are introduced to yet another law.  This is the third law.  Are we keeping track?

  • The LAW OF GOD which is good, but powerless.

  • The LAW OF THE SINFUL NATURE which is evil and has great power

  • And now this third law.

Let’s call it the law of the Spirit.  The law of the mind is the law of the Spirit.  We will see more of this in chapter 8:2.  The regenerate Apostle Paul has the spiritual ability to resist sin…but not in himself.  Think of this law as a sword.  This sword is capable of slaying temptation.  Capable of defeating Satan and all his demons.  BUT…if it remains in its scabbard, it can do nothing at all.  A sword in its scabbard has such great POTENTIAL, but if it is not drawn, it is of no good.  Great POTENTIAL, but no POWER.

There is another law - sinful nature - waging war against the law of my mind - the spiritual nature - and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

My sinful nature suggests, and if I trust in myself and do not turn to God, there is only one possible result.

Verse 24 - Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death

I CAN’T DO IT ON MY OWN!  When I look in the mirror after trying to resist sin and failing AGAIN…I am without hope!  I am wretched, I am low, I am in anguish, I am distressed, I am helpless and hopeless.

WHO WILL DELIVER ME FROM THIS BODY OF DEATH?

My body, my flesh, my sinful nature is determined to send me back to the dungeon.  To bury me six feet under in the graveyard.  And I can’t possibly fight my sinful nature on my own.

What am I to do?  Why should I ever bother going on?  Where is the hope?

_____________

Where is the hope?  It is Jesus Christ our Saviour!

Verse 25 - Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I AM SAVED!  I AM SAVED!  NO MATTER HOW MUCH I SIN, NO MATTER HOW OFTEN I FAIL, JESUS BLOOD COVERS MY SIN!  There is more than enough grace won for me by the cross to cover over all of my failures.

Jesus Christ is the ANSWER…but VICTORY still eludes us.  And that is why Paul ends the chapter on such a melancholy note.

So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Are we destined to alternate between despair and hope?

WHO WILL SAVE ME? - despair

    JESUS HAS! - hope

AGAIN I SINNED…WHEN IS THIS GOING TO STOP?  WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING?

    JESUS DIED FOR YOU.  ONE DAY IT WILL STOP.  REJOICE IN HIM!

Again and again, caught between misery and joy?  Caught between despair and delight?

No, the life of the Christian need not be filled with such extreme lows.  There IS HOPE.  Remember that sword in the scabbard?  It’s time to draw it and use it.  Our third point.

It has all been leading up to this.  The high point of the book of Romans.  Chapter 8, the shining jewel of comfort and joy and peace.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Condemnation, wrath…all of the bad news that Paul has been laying out so methodically.,.rejoice Christian!  Condemnation is not for you.  The condemnation has already been poured out.  That’s the propitiation.  The pouring out of God’s wrath on another.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Breathe the free air again my friend.

NO MATTER HOW YOU FEEL, NO MATTER HOW YOU DESPAIR, NO MATTER HOW YOUR OLD NATURE, OR DEMONS, OR SATAN HIMSELF WHISPERS IN YOUR EAR…it’s not true.  It’s all lies.

All that they have are WORDS.  Satan has no power over you, Christian.  There’s nothing he can do.  He might look scary.  He might try to intimidate you…but he’s got NOTHING.  All the power, all the might, all the victory…belongs…not only to GOD, not only to JESUS CHRIST…but to all those who are in Him.  All those who belong to Him.

There is NO CONDEMNATION.  Satan wants to condemn you.  Satan wants to accuse you.  And he does, through his little sleeper agent in you…but you know who isn’t listening?

THE JUDGE.  The judge does not care about what Satan has to say.  Not a single word.  Our judge ignores every single word that comes out of the Accuser’s mouth.  They’re all lies anyways.  These are the desperate lies of a condemned creature, trying desperately to bring others into his suffering and misery with him.  And it won’t work.

And that would be ENOUGH.  This is more than “enough.”  This is more than comforting.

You don’t go to the Grand Canyon and say, “oh that’s nice.”

You don’t see the majesty of Niagara Falls and yawn.

This is the Grand Canyon of theology.  The Niagara Falls of salvation.

But it continues.  It’s like you’re at the Grand Canyon, and you turn to the right and see Mount Everest.  You turn to the left and see Machu Pichu, you turn up and see the Northern Lights.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

We’ll get back to this, but let’s keep looking around, presenting a 360 degree panoramic shot of the glories here.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk, not according got the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

WOW.  There’s just…no words.

____________

Well, it’s my job for there to be words, so let me at least try.

We see here 4 amazing glories of our salvation.

First: There is NO CONDEMNATION.  We already examined this one together.  We are not condemned because Christ already was.  There was that cup of wrath and condemnation, and Christ has drained it dry.  

 

Secondly: We have been SET FREE.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we may draw the sword and face each and every temptation as it comes.  That law of sin and death?  That principle that sin says “jump!” and through gritted teeth, tears streaming down our face, we ask “how high?”

Well, no more.

Sin says “jump” and we draw our sword and say, “NOT TODAY!  I don’t have to obey you.  I have a new master!”

The law of the Spirit of a life - here is the new, life-giving principle.  We are FREE!  Our sleeper agent has been disarmed.  Our old nature only has the power now to suggest.  And we have the power to resist.

Glorious.  Amazing.  Wonderful!

As long as we rely on the Spirit, we will have the victory.  Each and every time, we will have the victory.

No condemnation.  Glorious.

Set free.  Wondrous.

And what about fulfillment?  The Lord has fulfilled the Law.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.

What could the law not do?

  • Save us

  • Change us

  • Help us

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us.

The Law, a beautiful and wonderful thing, holy, righteous, and good, became corrupted, a tool used by Satan.  But the Devil, for all his wiles and cunning could not corrupt the Son of God.  And so Jesus Christ, God the Son, with all His divine power and might, bore our sins in His human nature, in His flesh, and condemned sin.  As judge He condemned the sin.  As sacrifice, He killed the sin.  Our old nature is as good as dead.

Though it may seem so strong, it is nothing but a dying parasite on death row with the execution date drawing closer and closer.  We need not listen.  We need not give in.

 

And finally, we can walk by the Spirit.

Who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

This is how our Christian lives must now be lived.  Not giving in to our old way of life, not listening to the whines and whimpers of our old nature, not having to fall down in guilt and fear and hopelessness, but walking in the light as He is in the light.  Walking boldly, living boldly in the power of God.

According to the power of GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT WHO DWELLS IN US.  The One who raised Christ Jesus from the dead also raised me.  I AM IMMORTAL.  I AM INCORRUPTIBLE.  I AM HOLY.

No longer any weight to slow us down.  No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.  From life’s first cry to final breath, it is JESUS who commands my destiny!

Not my former master Satan.

Not his minions.

Not my sinful nature.

JESUS CHRIST.  He is my master and my Lord.  My friend and my brother.  My Saviour who loved me, who personally died to personally save me.

He accomplished all of this to empower ME to live for Him.  To live in all the wisdom, the grace, and the freedom that the Holy Spirit provides.

Already now I am set free.  Already now I have the victory.

All glory, honour, and praise be to Him.  Now and forever.

AMEN!




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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