Monday, February 18, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

A meditation on Romans 8:1-4.

Though I've heard it attributed to a couple of sources, it has apparently been said that the Scripture is like a beautiful ring, the book of Romans is the jewel in that ring, and the eighth chapter of Romans is the sparkle in the jewel.

At the opening of the 'sparkle of Scripture', we read this great declaration: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (v.1). This statement of our security in Christ is so strong, so sure, and so glorious that we could spend much time meditating on its content. I mean, think about it. We are in Christ, so we do not and will not ever experience God's condemnation. We cannot be labeled "condemned" anymore because of Christ's work and because He has sent the Spirit of life to set us free from the law of sin and death (v. 2).

The content is fascinating, but what has captured my heart at the moment is the context. You see, chapter breaks are really such modern inventions, and it's a real shame when Bible reading plans have you stop at chapter breaks when there is such a vital connection. When you find such unfortunate breaks in your translation (whether it's a chapter break or a new "heading" inserted by an editor), dig down deep, ignore your Sunday School teacher's voice in your head, and write in your Bible in all capital letters: "DON'T STOP READING!" In my estimation, the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of Romans 8 is just such a place.

Sounds random, but think about a boxing match. I've only watched limited amounts of actual boxing in my life, but I have seen the fictional Rocky Balboa fight many, many times. You know those rounds where it looks like all hope is lost? The other boxer is having his way with Rocky, Rocky's eye is bloodied and swelling shut, and he's literally getting his brains beaten in. After being knocked down, Rocky struggles to get back up just before the referee finishes the dreaded 10-count. Then, just when you think "It's over...there's no way he can go on...somebody needs to stop this fight"...something happens. The bell rings. Rocky sits down, and his trainer waves smelling salts under his nose, bringing the boxer back to reality. They squirt water in his mouth and on his face, patch the cut above his eye, and prepare him to go out and fight again.

This is how I imagine the transition from chapter 7 to chapter 8. It's like a cosmic boxing match between you and the power of sin. Blows are being forcefully landed by the power of sin...doing what you don't want to do, wanting good but evil is right there with you, your mind loves God but there's sin in your body. The fight's not looking too good, and you're starting to lose hope. Your eyes are swollen're beaten, bloodied, bruised, and begging for it to end. You can't imagine having another ounce of energy to fight anymore...where's the towel so you can throw it in? You feel like shouting, "I GIVE U..."

Before you can finish giving up, the bell has rung. You're in your corner, and the apostle Paul climbs into the ring with a towel draped over his shoulder. God has sent this man into your life to bring you back to reality. So, the smelling salts come out, but they're not smelling salts at all...they are words...words that shake you back to reality: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

I can almost imagine Paul preaching his own text to you as you heave for a breath. He looks you right in the eye and says, "Have you forgotten who you are? You are in Christ and the condemnation of sin does not mark your life anymore. You are no longer subject to sin and to the will fight, but you will not fight with this defeat-ist attitude and posture. The Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death...don't you remember? Sin has no dominion over you anymore (ch. 6). And the Law? Don't go out there swinging the Law at sin...the Law can't do anything about sin except make you feel the sting. The Law doesn't rule you either (8:3, 7:1-13). Now, stand up...remember that Christ has condemned sin and robbed it of its sting and power in your life (8:3b)...get out there, and fight. Kill that sin (8:13), or as John Owen said, 'Be killing sin or it will be killing you.'"

Paul is right. What we must do when we are getting to that defeated posture is open our Bibles and smell reality. Then, we need to bang our gloves together, shake our head to clear it, crack our neck a couple of times, start hopping to get revved up, and then launch into another round. I'm so thankful for these 'smelling salts.' What a great, glorious, beautiful placement of this great, glorious, beautiful truth!

So, my friend, do not sit around and bemoan your Romans 7:14-25 experience. It is a true experience for believers, and it is a fight that we all must face. However, it is not the end of who you are. You are more than a conqueror through him who loved us (v. 37). So, put down the towel that you want so desperately to throw in. Sniff the smelling salts. Get out there. And fight!