Completed by the Spirit Part 8: Paul, Redeemed but Struggling

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
This is the eighth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
As we visited in our previous two installments, Douglas Moo describes three different ways in which the man Paul describes in Romans 7 can be identified:

1. Paul describes his experience as an unconverted Jew under the law, a view we saw explained in the previous installment.
2. Paul describes his experience, perhaps shortly after his conversion, as he sought sanctification through the law.
3. Paul describes his experience as a mature Christian.[1]

Sinclair Ferguson advocates for the third view, a post-regenerate Paul (or generic regenerate man) in Romans 7, and sees the apostle as using this pericope to join chapter 6 with chapter 8 and to describe the struggle that the believer has between his remaining corrupt flesh and his new nature:

[T]hese statements simply underline Paul’s sense of the inherent contradiction of being one in whom sin continues to dwell when he or she is not under the dominion of the flesh but in the Spirit. For the one who has realized that the synchronous indwelling of the Spirit of Christ and of sin presents an appalling contradiction – not merely a paradox – is bound to express it in terms that verge on, and perhaps are, contradictory.[2]

Stephen Westerholm also makes an argument for the third position, and in doing so gives us a warning about the danger of using the law as an agent of sanctification:

To seek to define whether he has in mind the Christian or the pre-Christian struggle with sin is probably to ask a question he did not intend to answer; indeed, his account seems to mix elements from both. Most of what he says clearly reflects his Christian perception of life lived under the law, but modern scholarship has perhaps too quickly banished every suggestion of Christian experience from the passage. 7:24–25, if reflective of any experience, would seem to reflect his continuing awareness of the struggle between a mind devoted to God’s service and a “flesh” drawn toward sin.[3]

Moo explains the second, mediating view in his analysis of all three:

The main argument for the second, “immature Christian,” view is, of course, that the arguments for the first and third views both carry weight, and so the only way to reconcile all the data is with a mediating view. Paul is a Christian (explaining the data in the third-view argument), but a Christian who finds himself frustrated because he is trying to live by the law (explaining the data in the first-view argument). But the problem with this mediating view, and the reason I finally think that the passage describes an unregenerate person, is that the data in the argument for the first view involve an objective state, not a subjective feeling. Paul does not say that he feels as if he were a slave of sin or that he feels as if he were a prisoner of the law of sin; rather, he states such as the reality of his situation.[4]

Does it matter to us as an application of Romans 7 which of the three men Paul is describing? Perhaps if we consider the passage only to be applicable to the unregenerate, or more specifically an unregenerate Jew, it might. But I think close inspection will tell us that we — you and I, believer — have a lot in common with the man in Romans 7, and the danger Paul points to in looking back at the law for our sanctification.
Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 9: ‘It Cannot Justify, It Cannot Sanctify’
[1] Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). Moo provides further depth in his Romans commentary.
[2] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: 1996), 160.
[3] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 397.
[4] Moo, 125–6.

How to Help Others: Galatians 6:3-6

David Frampton
Dave Frampton
Introduction: Paul is giving solid instruction on a practical level about how to get the church of Galatia back together. The individual members of the church must become the menders of the church. As the physical body strives to put itself back together after a physical injury, so the body of Christ should seek to heal itself by the means which the Lord has appointed. Every believer is to be active in restoring and healing the body, which is the church. Menders must have a proper attitude. The NIV unhappily has not translated the connecting particle, “for”. Paul is emphasizing that you must have a proper view of self, if you would be a helper of others.
I. The problem a wrong view of self creates (6:3)
A. The essence of a wrong view of self (cf. Rm 12:3).

1. A sense of self-importance is based on self-ignorance. If you really know who you are, you cannot be conceited (cf. 1 Cor 4:7; 15:9-10). There is something wrong with the idea of a “conceited Christian”. How can anyone who owes all to God’s grace be proud?

2. One who has an inflated view of himself cannot think of stooping to help the lowly. Actually, this kind of person is failing to see his unity in the Spirit with all who follow Christ; together we are spiritual brothers and sisters.

B. The dreadful deception such a view causes.

1. The person is living in the realm of fantasy. He or she is like a child who is playing “super heroes”. There are no super heroes in the church, but there is one Almighty Lord—Jesus Christ!

2. The darker side of this tragedy is that the person does not know he has been taken in by his conceit. And therefore, this person misses opportunities to honor Christ by helping others and sets himself up for a fall.

II. The importance of self-examination (6:4)
A. A personal responsibility.

1. There is no special class of examiners in the church. Some have liked to imagine themselves as such. Back in the day, we used to talk about “Baptist binoculars” or the “Spiritual Gestapo”. In the school I attended, for example, we had people like this who anointed themselves to turn all rule-breakers into the administration. But the focus is on personal rather than institutional responsibility.

2. We must choose a correct standard of measure. In context, this would be the fruit of the Spirit. Paul says that this is objective in nature – “actions” – works. What do you see the Spirit producing in your way of life?

B. The benefits of self-examination.

1. He will be able to see for himself what God has done for him and in him. Thus, the true boast of a believer is in the sovereign grace of God.

2. This involves removal of a competitive spirit and a “holier than thou” attitude (cf. Lk 18:11; 2 Cor 10:12).

III. The obligation of a proper view of self (6:5)
A. Observation.

1. Often this verse is misused, something like this: “People need help carrying big burdens, like those mentioned in verse two. But each one has to carry his own little burdens.”

2. However appealing this view might be, the context will not allow it. This is a common saying with a variety of applications. Here, it is illustrating each one’s own responsibility to God. We each must carry our own load. The connective word “for” demands this interpretation.

B. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, each one of us will give an account of himself to the Lord. Paul will not answer for Peter, nor Peter for Paul (Rm 14:9-12; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Heb 13:17).
Apply: The Galatians should not bust themselves “counting the scalps” of their erring brothers. But they should make sure that they personally are ready to appear before the Lord.

1. One who has an inflated view of himself cannot think of stooping to help

IV. The New Testament Scriptures give instruction about how a church is to be administered.
A. Meaning of “a church”.

1. A church is an assembly of believers, not an institution. [Contrast Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. 1, p. 238.] We create serious problems when we change something that is personal into what is impersonal.

2. The local church is an assembly of believers in a particular location.

Comment: Unfortunately, we cannot have the New Testament ideal of “an assembly of all believers in a particular location”. We have the enduring problem of denominationalism. For reasons why this must be so, see Lutzer, All One Body – Why Don’t We Agree?
B. There has been great debate about the kind of detail that God has given to us for the administration and worship of the church.

1. Normative principle: You are free to do whatever the Lord does not directly forbid. This promotes a lot of ritualism in worship.

2. Regulative principle: You must only do what the Bible commands.

Comment: Both of these have been partially responsible for the creation of an institutionalized and ritualistic church.

3. Reflective principle: We must not do what the Bible forbids, and we must do what it commands, but in other areas, what we do must reflect what we are by the grace of God in the new covenant.

Comment: This would include such truths as adoption and the priesthood of the believer, and the providence of God in our lives (our education, location, culture). God is glorified by the variety in his creation and new creation. Within the boundaries of the word, we must glorify him by our unity and diversity.
C. The New Testament Scriptures establish the right of a minister of the gospel to financial support.

1. The Lord has ordered that certain men—those who preach and teach the gospel—are to earn their living by their ministry. He tells us that the worker deserves his wages principle (Lk 10:7; 1 Cor 9:7-10; 1 Tm 5:17-18). This is reinforced by the spiritual benefit, material supply principle (1 Cor 9:11; cf. Rm 15:26-27). If someone supplies your greater need, shouldn’t you supply his lesser need? And we ought to remember the reward in heaven principle (Ph 4:17; cf. Lk 12:32-34).

2. This financial support is to come from those who benefit from his ministry. His service is instruction in the word. And so those who make use of his service, “anyone who receives instruction”, are to be his main financial supporters.

Comment: In missionary situations, like Paul at Corinth, this may not be possible for various reasons. But it is a worthy goal to be pursued.
D. The New Testament Scriptures establish a principle for the amount of pay to be provided for Christ’s minister.

1. It is built on the principle of sharing or participating in the gospel ministry. We are partners together in a good work—the salvation of the lost and the spiritual growth of believers into Christ’s likeness. What better thing can we aspire to do? To most efficiently pursue this goal, some have the calling of ministry, others various other callings.

Apply: Whatever you do is important to Christ. He has called you to do that very thing for him.

2. The Lord sets forth in the Bible sets forth an ideal of material equality among the saints. Those who have more should help those who have less (2 Cor 8:13-15). Applied to the minister, this means: He should share in what his people have. As I see it, this means he should live on the average level of the people to whom he usually ministers. Some will have more and some less, according as God has blessed each. The pastor should not seek to have more than others, nor should the people provide him with the least among them. There is to be a sharing. This extends to “all good things”. If it is good for the person who listens to have something, then it is good for the pastor to have it as well. (This does not exclude his own responsibility. See 1 Cor 10:23; etc.)

Apply: Are we involved in helping others?