My sophomore year in college was quite memorable. There were many strange happenings but one thing really stands out. I went to a small private Southern Baptist University. On the outside we appeared super Christian and super conservative but in reality sin was as rampant in our school as in any other. One day a visitor came to our ultra conservative school and pointed this out in a not so loving way.
He was some sort of traveling evangelist who had a very odd version of the Gospel. To this day I’m not sure whether he was sincere but off base, delusional, or a con-man. He came with a message of absolute perfection after salvation and an in-your-face abrasive preaching style that would have made John the Baptist shake his head.
He stood in the middle of campus and shouted, “repent, you bunch of sinners!” As a couple walked by holding hands, he pointed them out and said, “look these two are candidates for herpes simplex two!” The insults flowed from his lips with such ease that he must have practiced quite a bit. The people on campus became infuriated. Some pelted him with food items and water balloons. Others cursed at him and insulted him. Finally, I approached him and asked him if we could talk inside of one of the common areas on campus.
Once we got inside he explained to me that after he was saved he no longer sinned. Someone who was with asked a few questions trying to trap him. One of the questions was does he speed on the highway. The evangelist suggested that the Holy Spirit guided him while he was driving so that he would not exceed the speed limit. As we continued to talk with him, he revealed that he had made millions by suing universities for kicking him off campus. He justified this by saying that the money was used to travel and spread his version of the Gospel. Towards the end of our talk I brought the passage below to his attention. He argued against it as proof that Christianity does not equal perfection in this life by saying that in these verses Paul was speaking in the past tense. Read for yourself and see what you think.
Romans 7:4-25 NIV
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
It is clear from the text that Paul is speaking in present tense. He is talking about an inner war between our sinful nature and our spiritual one. Prior to salvation, sin and man are one and the same there is no separation. We sin without thinking about it or we may even praise and promote our own sinfulness or the sins of others. Although perfection does not come on this side of heaven we must acknowledge our sin and flee from it.
Paul says prior to his experience with the risen Savior, he was once a slave to sin. The questions you should ask yourself goes as follows. Are you at war with the sin in your life? Or are you more like a volunteer, a partner, or a co-worker. Do you desire to eradicate sin in your life or do you promote and advertise your sin? Are you proud of if. Are you and your sin one? Christianity does not mean instant perfection but that we will push toward that mark and we know who to call on and seek forgiveness from when we miss it.
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.