Spiritual Warfare 1: Overcoming shame by speaking truth with grace

Romans 7:4-6

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which work through the Law* in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter

* The above text, translated literally from the Greek text, omits the term arouse and is preferred over the NASB translation: the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law.

Background

Where the Law is powerless against the flesh, the Spirit overcomes and overflows with eternal life. The Law seeks to change behaviour and man’s outward appearance while the Spirit focuses on the transformation of the heart. The apostle Paul uses the term “Law” in a myriad of ways. In this passage, the Law denotes the commandments and the corresponding punishments. The Law plays an important role in keeping order and tranquility in the society by protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. However, it is important to note that laws are meant to deter destructive behaviours, not to transform man’s heart towards abundant living. While laws function as deterrence, it harbours other undesirable effects that hinder man from realising the depth of their sin. Jesus, in winning the war at the cross broke the power of sin over the flesh. Today’s devotion, the first in a series on spiritual warfare focuses on uncovering the devil’s deception in causing man to focus on behavioural change without a fundamental change of the heart towards God. The spiritual warfare must not be directed at changing behaviour, but in overcoming shame and transforming the heart by speaking truth with grace. 

Observation

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another.

The people of Israel were under the jurisdiction of Moses’ Law both at the state level as well as at the individual level. While it is necessary for the state to continue to uphold law and order, Jesus has brought (for Israel and for all believers) a new dispensation where the enforcement of law on transgressors is deemphasised. God no longer requires transgressors to be punished by Moses’ Law: you also were made to die to the Law. Jesus, when faced with an adulterous woman no longer requires her to be stoned to death (see John 8:1-11). While the Law requires just punishment for the transgressor, it is powerless against the fallen human nature. The mutilation of Christ on the cross juridically releases believers from the necessity of punishment, and His resurrection has provided a new way of salvation and freedom: you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ. By the new way of the Spirit, believers are dispensed of the necessity for punishment, shedding their fallen desires to bear fruit for God.

For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which work through the Law…

The law (however sharp and potent it may be) with its accompanying structure of deterrences remains powerless against the sinful passions of fallen man (the flesh). Sinful passions refer to the inclinations and the instincts that run contrary to the values and desires of God. The purpose of the Law is to label sinful passions as sins, so that they may not escape undetected: the sinful passions, which work through the Law… to bear fruit for death. The Law traps the acts of sin (which otherwise would have been undetected) effectively indicting the sinner. The NASB contains the word “aroused” (which the original text omits) making the Law culpable for man’s evil is an incorrect translation. Nevertheless, there are two undesirable effects inherent in man’s implementation of the Law.

a.  The undesirable effect of shameLaws with their inherent deterrences and punishments force people to conceal their transgressions so that they may not be vilified and punished. As a result, they cannot obtain the necessary help and support they need in order to overcome their sinful passions and lifestyle. Thus, they continue to struggle with sin, not being able to receive counsel and restoration.

b.  The undesirable effect of hypocrisyLaws also serve as a framework making it expedient to justify man’s sinful lifestyle and erroneous mindset. Jesus addresses such people as hypocrites, who project a religious appearance of holiness, but devoid of justice, mercy and humility. Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees calling them hypocrites for they obey the law in tithing to the temple, but do not provide for their own family (see Matthew 23:23).

The Law curbs sinful behaviour but it indirectly serves as a catalyst for shame and hypocrisy. Paul wanted to accentuate the undesirable effects of using laws to direct behaviour so that they may move on to serve in the newness of the Spirit. Because the Jews are obsessed with the Law, it is Paul’s intention to put the Law’s inherent deficiencies under the spotlight. The Law although an ally in suppressing destructive behaviour, is not a solution to society’s ills. Unless man learns to live in the newness of the Spirit in allowing God to transform his heart, man can never experience eternal life.

So that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

When a child is young, laws (oldness of the letter) are needed to provide clear boundaries and instil discipline through a structure of incentives and punishment. These boundaries indicate where God’s kingdom ends, and where the kingdom of darkness begins. When a man transgresses the law, he enters into the devil’s territory and subjects himself to his attacks. Through the tutorage of the law, the child learns respect and reverence towards authority that is able to protect him. Nevertheless, other than pointing to the line that must not be transgressed, laws can do nothing more. But once the child matures into adulthood, laws are deemphasised in preference for virtues of mercy, justice and humility. A mature man is directed by the virtues of Christ: mercy, justice and humility (newness of the Spirit) while keeping himself in check by the boundaries of the law. Laws, in the age of the Spirit remain relevant as they serve as protective boundaries preventing believers from being attacked by the devil. However, it pleases God to usher in a new dispensation of the Spirit, so that man may live in the likeness of Christ. While believers acknowledge the boundaries of the law (oldness of the letter) so as not to transgress them, he lives not out of fear (of being punished) but out of the virtues of Christ (newness of the Spirit). It is far better to live by the innate virtues of the Spirit, than the fear of punishment. A believer who moves and lives by the virtues of the Spirit (newness of the Spirit) does not fear that he may transgress the law, for the Spirit cleanses him daily from sinful passions. The apostle John says,

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 1 John 4:18

The virtues of the Spirit operates within the confines of God’s kingdom and keeps the believer out of trouble. But an unbeliever who does not possess Christ’s Spirit is left to the devices of the law, being constantly directed by the fear of punishment so that he may not transgress it.

Truth

Use consequences to warn occasionally, but constantly speak truth and grace to the heart.

What controls human behaviour is not the knowledge of laws or the consequences of disobedience, but desire. A person’s behaviour proceeds from his innate desires and the posture of his heart. Jesus taught,

For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit… The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. Luke 6:43,45

We know that a thermometer does not control temperature, but a thermostat does. Hence, one cannot change the temperature of the room by beating the thermometer to bits. Likewise, unless we change the fundamentals of a man’s heart, his behaviour remains unchanged. Therefore, by changing our communication patterns to target the human heart, we change the fundamentals, and succeed in changing behaviour. How do we change the fundamentals of the human heart? By speaking truth and grace to the heart.

a.  Truth pertains to the principles of abundant living and the virtues of godliness. By speaking the truth in clarity, we direct their attention to the biblical principles that are able to prosper. In the process, we also help them to understand where they are and how much they have fallen short. In this way, they may count the cost of change and the sacrifices needed to fulfill their objectives.

b.  Grace is the power of the Holy Spirit that restores hearts and transforms them. Grace removes negative emotions that hinders abundant living: depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, sorrow and anger. Change is impossible when we are left alone by ourselves, but with divine grace all things are possible. Believers become facilitators of God’s grace when our presence brings hope, love and assurances of God’s promises. It begins with the Spirit’s guidance in empathising with their sorrows, and sensing their particular circumstances, their desperation and helplessness. The Spirit moves the believer to speak words that strengthen the hearer releasing him from the bondage of confusion and restlessness.

Create a culture of empathy and repentance as opposed to behavioural perfection.

The devil loves to harp on behavioural perfection because it compels people to conceal their sins, and put up an appearance of holiness. In doing so, sins and addictions continue to fester unabated sucking the life out of the church. Before long, members of the church, become savvy in pretending to be religious and perfect. If the leadership of the church constantly speaks of punishment as deterrence for sin, being excessively intolerant of it, people will feel uncomfortable approaching the church for help. The church must arrive at a culture that allows people to surface their weaknesses without fear of being reprimanded or shamed. God sees perfection not as man sees. Perfection in God’s eyes is the heart of surrender, repentance and faith in all that He has said in the Bible. Many churches in their zeal to sanctify the church, implicitly condemn the sinner and strike fear without knowing. Hence, people are afraid to get help because they are wary of the treatment they may receive. Believers are still a work in progress, and are yet perfected. Hence, it is expected that even leaders will continue to commit sin and need restoration as well. The church of Jesus Christ is righteous (although still a work in progress), but yet gentle with sinners who need healing and forgiveness. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” Therefore, the church and her leadership must stop pretending that we are perfect. We may fool the congregation, but we will never fool God.

Application

Are you easily frustrated by other people’s actions and often lash out at them? And especially to the people close to us (our family, colleagues and friends), who often do the things that irritate and offend us. By speaking truth and grace into their hearts, you heal their wounds and restore the foundation of truth within them. Do not focus on changing behaviour, but rather with the Spirit’s guidance, empathise with them and speak hope and grace. Before long, you will see positive changes in their behaviour like never before.

Dear Lord, thank you for revealing the secret to transforming lives by truth and grace. Imbue in me the patience, hope and kindness of the Spirit, so that I may become a channel of the Spirit’s truth and grace to the world. Cause me to be an encourager to those who are struggling with sin and shame. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.


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