Thursday, November 23, 2017

This week's lesson (November 18-24): Who Is the Man of Romans 7?

Actually, a better title for this week's lesson might be, "Why is there such a fuss about Romans 7:14-25?"

And the answer would be another question, "Can a Christian be 'perfect' in this life?"

In these verses, remember, Paul summarizes the purpose of the Law: it can diagnose, but it cannot cure. Like an X-ray machine, it can show you what it is broken -- but it can't put on a cast. No, for that kind of healing you need Someone Else . . .

And Paul talks about that "Someone Else" in Romans 8.

But in his discussion of the Law back in Romans 7:14-25, Paul gave his version of Maher's Law, i.e. "knowing better doesn't help." You may know what God wants you to do, in other words -- and you may even want to do what God wants you to do . . . but that still doesn't mean you can do it.

In short, nobody's perfect.

But in Matthew 5:48, Jesus commands us to "be perfect" -- and over the years, believers have struggled to reconcile that command with Romans 7:14-25.
  • Some believers (such as Pelagius) said Christians should be perfect in this life; the Law tells us what to do, after all, and Jesus shows us how to do it.
  • Other believers (such as Augustine of Hippo) said Christians could not be perfect in this life -- and yes, most Protestant Reformers agreed with him. We are "Simul Iustus et Peccator," said Luther, "simultaneously saints and sinners."
  • Though he was definitely a Protestant, however, John Wesley seems to have believed in something he called "The Second Blessing," i.e. a gift of the Holy Spirit that would gradually free believers from all known sin. "We may not be perfect in anything else," Wesley said in effect, "but we can be perfect in love."
  • Like Wesley, for instance, she said "sanctification was the work of a lifetime" -- not the instantaneous experience claimed by some in the Holiness Movement.
  • Like Wesley, she said those who are "perfect in love" don't know it (and certainly don't claim it) -- again, not like some in the Holiness Movement.
  • And like Wesley, she was resolutely practical in her holiness; "the sign of the Holy Spirit" is not miracles, in other words, but the love we show for each other.
While she never claimed perfection, in other words, Ellen White was certainly open to the idea . . . 
But it took M. L. Andreasen to make it mandatory.
Andreasen was a famous Adventist speaker, theologian, and church leader; he was also a keen student of Ellen White. And when he read her words about our need for holiness and God's gift of the Holy Spirit at the end of time, he came up with the belief we now call, "Last Generation Theology."
  • Like Wesley, Andreasen said perfection is possible.
  • Like Adventists everywhere, Andreasen said the time would come "when Probation closed," i.e. when salvation was no longer possible for anyone who was not already saved. 
  • And like many "Historic Adventists" today, Andreasen said believers could make it through this "close of Probation" only if they'd been made perfect -- both sealed and sanctified -- by the Holy Spirit.
Perfection was not only possible, in other words; Andreasen said it was required for anyone who was alive when Jesus returned . . .
Which brings us back to Romans 7:14-25.
  • Reformers such as Luther, remember, viewed this text as "proof" that believers could not achieve perfection in this life.
  • But Adventists such as Andreasen say that that it's talking about people who try to overcome sin by their own power; as such, it doesn't apply to believers who are made perfect by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • And then you have John Brunt -- the author of the companion-book to the Adult Sabbath School Lesson way back in 2010 -- who says flat-out that we're missing the point. That's because "Paul isn't trying to talk about the human dilemma at some point in a person's experience. He's talking about the law, and the human dilemma is merely an illustration." (John Brunt, Redemption in Romans [Pacific Press: 2010], page 75.) 
Myself, I suspect that Brunt is right -- that the subject of these verses is the Law, and the point of them is our need for Christ.
If we struggle with sin, after all, then that means we need Jesus.
But if we are able to overcome sin, then it's only because of Jesus.
And when we stand in the Judgment after the close of Probation, then the only reason we will be able to stand is all because of Jesus -- the same Jesus who said He'd be with us always, "even to the close of this age."

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