Monthly Archives: April 2016

Exploration of the Trinity – Part 2 – “God Is One” Biblical Landscape

Our aim over the next few weeks is to:

  • Dive deep into the Biblical Landscape that informs our discussion of the Trinity.
  • Everything we uncover will be the backdrop for later discussions.
  • It will be our claim that the Biblical landscape is best explained by the Trinity.
  • Enjoy the ride!



God is One:

The first line of our septad from last week is:

  • (P1) God is one.


This seems like a good place to start Part 2 of our exploration of the Trinity.

  • Does the Bible affirm that God is one?
  • What exactly is meant by the proposition, “God is one”?


Let’s start with most obvious relevant verse – the Shema.

  • The Shema affirms for us that God is “one”.
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.


But what does the Shema mean with its affirmation that God is one?


To get at the answer, we need to see that the verse uses two significant words to refer to God.

  • It uses “Lord” which is English for the Hebrew YHWH.
  • It uses “God” which is English for the Hebrew “elohim”, the plural of “el”.


Insert these back into the verse and we get:

  • “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our elohim, YHWH is one (elohim)”


And, even more helpful, there is wide agreement that the verse should be translated:

  • “Hear, O Israel: YHWH is our elohim, YHWH alone (is our elohim)”
  • (See any descent study Bible).


So let’s ask some basic questions about this verse.

  • By doing so we will flesh out the meaning of “one”.


Is YHWH an elohim?

  • Yes.


Whose elohim is YWHW?

  • Israel’s.


How many YHWH “elohim” are there?

  • Context makes clear that there is one.


How many “elohim” are there?

  • The Shema makes no sense if YHWH is the only “elohim”.
  • In fact, “The Shema doesn’t deny existence of other gods, it presupposes them and treats them as ‘real competitors for Israel’s devotion’” – Nathan MacDonald.


Look at Deuteronomy 6:14 (just a few verses later).

  • Deuteronomy 6:14 (ESV) — 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—
  • “gods” here is Hebrew for “elohim”.
  • (More on “elohim” in a moment).


So now we have enough info to understand what is meant by “one” in context of the Shema.

  • 1) There are many “elohim” (such as Egypt’s “elohim” from Deut 6:14).
  • 2) There is only one YHWH “elohim” (Israel’s “elohim”).
  • 3) So to be the only YWHW “elohim” among all “elohim” is to be what?



  • Unique!
  • What we have here is talk of “the uniqueness of the one God” (Larry Hurtado).


Scholar, Mike Heiser puts it this way:

  • The Shema teaches the “belief in [YHWH’s] uniqueness and incomparability: There is only one YHWH and He is unique.”
  • “Yhwh is elohim but no other elohim is yhwh.” – Mike Heiser.


So, when the Shema speaks of “one God” it is telling us:

  • YHWH is unique.
  • YHWH is incomparable.
  • No other “elohim” compare to YHWH.



Biblical Landscape Alert:

(1) Some argue that the Shema itself points to the Trinity.

  • The TWOT, for example, says that the Hebrew word for “one”, “ehad”, can mean:
  • “Unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness”.


Yet, it concedes that context is what makes this determination.

  • The Shema doesn’t contain the right context.
  • The context here is not YHWH’s ontology (his inner nature as a being).
  • It is YHWH’s outward relationship to Israel and other elohim.


So, the Shema is neither a:

  • Trinitarian proclamation.
  • Binitarian proclamation, or a
  • Unitarian proclamation.


(2) We need to take the proclamation of the Shema at face value.

  • This will be very important in a couple of weeks.


The Shema makes a very simple and straightforward claim.

  • If an “elohim” is unique among the “elohim” then that “elohim” is…YHWH.
  • To be Israel’s YHWH is to be or possess (?) this uniqueness.
  • (We will see what this uniqueness consists of shortly).


Importantly, this means there is no talk of “substance” or “essence” in the Shema.

  • These are, after all, Greek ideas that came much, much later.
  • The language to identify and set apart YHWH here is “oneness” as “uniqueness”.


This is a very important feature of the Biblical Landscape we are surveying.

  • File this away for later.


Remember, we are seeking to gain an appreciation for the Biblical Landscape.

  • A landscape that suggests the Trinity as its best explanation (our contention).


For now, we need to flesh out all this “elohim” and YHWH stuff.

  • We need to understand what makes YHWH unique among the “elohim”.
  • This is going to be fun!



YHWH’s Uniqueness and the Elohim Intro:

For this to make any sense, you have to rework your modern concept of monotheism.

  • A word that, is itself, only a few hundred years old.
  • The modern dictionary idea of monotheism is not ancient Jewish monotheism.


If you look up the word “monotheism” you will find something like:

  • The belief that there is only one god or deity.


Here is the problem:

  • The idea that there is only one god or deity is foreign to the Bible.


Scholar, Michael Heiser (Understanding Israelite Monotheism):

The Shema has often wrongly, “lead to the assumption that the OT Israelites did not believe in the existence of other gods. According to this assumption, the definition of monotheism rules out the existence of other gods. In light of many OT passages, these assumptions cannot be sustained.”


Scholar, Larry Hurtado (One Lord, One God):

“It is a fair point that the dictionary meaning of ‘monotheism’ (the term a relatively modern coinage) scarcely fits the ancient world-views in question…The key distinguishing factor, and the most blatant expression of ‘ancient Jewish monotheism’ was not in denial of the existence of other divine beings but in an exclusivity of cultic practice [worship].”


Scholar, Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel):

The element that makes ancient Judaism monotheistic, “is not the denial of the existence of other ‘gods’, but an understanding of the uniqueness of YHWH that puts him in a class of his own, a wholly different class from any other heavenly or supernatural beings, even if these are called ‘gods’.”


Is this for real?

  • Does the OT affirm the existence of other gods – “elohim”?
  • Does the Bible locate YHWH’s uniqueness with comparisons to other “elohim”?


The answer to both questions is…yes!



The Elohim:

The obvious thing to do now is figure out the identity of the “elohim”

  • In the OT, there are at least six “different entities” designated as “elohim” – Michael Heiser.
  • (The source for this info is Michael Heiser’s Unseen Realm.)


(1) Yahweh

The OT uses the word “elohim” for YHWH literally thousands of times.

  • Deuteronomy 4:35 (ESV) — 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God [elohim]; there is no other besides him.
  • Jeremiah 26:13 (ESV) — 13 Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God [elohim], and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.
  • Micah 4:5 (ESV) — 5 For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god [elohim], but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God [elohim] forever and ever.


(2) Members of Yahweh’s Divine Council

God’s Divine Council, or heavenly host, appears throughout the OT

  • Psalm 82:1 (ESV) — 1 God [elohim] has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment:
  • 1 Kings 22:19–21 (ESV) — 19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven [these are elohim] standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit [“ruah”, an elohim] came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’


(3) Foreign Gods

Called a Deuteronomy 32 worldview, the OT understands there to be gods over other nations.

  • Deuteronomy 4:7 (ESV) — 7 For what great nation is there that has a god [elohim] so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?
  • Judges 11:24 (ESV) — 24 Will you not possess what Chemosh your god [elohim] gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God [elohim] has dispossessed before us, we will possess.
  • 1 Kings 11:33 (ESV) — 33 because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess [elohim] of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god [elohim] of Moab, and Milcom the god [elohim] of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.


(4) “The deceased Samuel”

  • 1 Samuel 28:13–14 (ESV) — 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god [elohim] coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.


(4) Demons (“shedim”)

  • Deuteronomy 32:17 (NRSV) — 17 They sacrificed to demons, not God, to deities [elohim] they had never known, to new ones recently arrived, whom your ancestors had not feared.
  • Paul references this in 1 Corinthians 10:20 – “they sacrifice to demons and not to God”.


(5) “Angels or the Angel of Yahweh”

  • Judges 6:20 (ESV) — 20 And the angel of God [malak elohim] said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so.
  • 2 Samuel 14:17 (ESV) — 17 And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God [malak elohim] to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you!”


BTW – “elohim” has many other uses, such as idols, but they are obviously not living “entities”.


So what do all the referents of the word “elohim” have in common?

  • Maybe a leading question will help.
  • In what realm do all “elohim” live?


Mike Heiser helps us out here:

  • “What all the figures on the list have in common is that they are inhabitants of the spiritual world.”
  • “The word elohim is a ‘place of residence’ term. Our home is the world of embodiment; elohim by nature inhabit the spiritual world.”


This leads us to some very important questions.

  • What is the difference(s) between YHWH and all other “elohim”?
  • Why is YHWH unique and incomparable?
  • Why is it true that, “Yhwh is elohim but no other elohim is yhwh”?



YHWH’s Uniqueness and Incomparability:

The Bible will help us out quite a bit here.

  • Nehemiah 9:6 (ESV) — 6 “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven [elohim of Divine Council] worships you.
  • Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods [elohim] and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
  • Psalm 148:1–5 (ESV) — 1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! 2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! 3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! 4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created.


YHWH is the uncreated, eternal creator of all things – including the other “elohim”.

  • And all other “elohim” are to worship him.
  • You can’t get any more unique and incomparable than that.


Let’s look at some more Scriptural examples of YHWH’s uniqueness.

  • Deuteronomy 3:24 (ESV) — 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god [el] is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?
  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV) — 39 “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god [elohim] beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
  • Exodus 15:11 (ESV) — 11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods [el]? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
  • 1 Kings 8:23 (ESV) — 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God [elohim] like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart;
  • Psalm 89:6–7 (ESV) — 6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, 7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones [refers to elohim], and awesome above all who are around him?
  • Psalm 97:9 (ESV) — 9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods [elohim].


The above texts are “statements of incomparability” – Michael Heiser.

  • No “elohim” compare to YHWH!
  • Again, “YHWH is elohim, but no other elohim is YHWH!” – Heiser.


But wait, there is more!

  • Scripture is chocked full of “unique qualities” that pertain only to YHWH – Heiser.
  • Examples are too numerous to list.


And of the many examples, Job 9 has a curious one.

  • Job 9:8 (ESV) — 8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;
  • YHWH’s uniqueness includes the ability to subdue and walk upon the sea.
  • His control over creation is one reason why He is the one unique God of Israel.
  • He controls it and subdues it because He made it.


Such examples are important parts of the Biblical Landscape relevant to our exploration of the Trinity.

  • As is our final topic under YHWH’s uniqueness – worship.



Worship and Ancient Jewish Monotheism:

Ancient Jewish monotheism cannot be fully understood outside of the worship of YHWH.

  • YHWH is unique
  • YHWH is incomparable.
  • YHWH alone is to be worshipped.


Scholar, Thomas McCall:

  • “Because YHWH is utterly unique as Creator and Lord, worship is to be devoted exclusively to him.”
  • “Worship is central to early Jewish monotheism” – Thomas McCall.


Again, the Bible makes this clear!

  • Exodus 34:14 (ESV) — 14 for you shall worship no other god [el], for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God [el],
  • Deuteronomy 8:19 (ESV) — 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods [elohim] and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.
  • Deuteronomy 11:16 (ESV) — 16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods [elohim] and worship them;


Biblical Landscape Alert:

We need to note something very important about the Jewish idea of worship of YHWH.

“For Jewish monotheism, this insistence on the one God’s exclusive right to religious worship was far more important than metaphysical notions of the unity of the divine nature” – Richard Bauckham.


In other words, YHWH was worthy of worship because He was the Israel’s elohim.

  • The unique and incomparable elohim.
  • YHWH was not worshipped because he was, in His inner nature, numerically one.


Scholar, Thomas McCall puts it this way:

“It is important to see that this account of monotheism is not centered on numerical oneness, nor does it obviously dictate that there is at most one divine person” – Thomas McCall.


As with the other features of the Biblical Landscape we have mentioned in this section…

  • We will revisit this in a few weeks.


As well as one other thing that needs fleshing out:

  • What did it mean, exactly, for an ancient Jew to worship?
  • And was it ever kosher to worship any being other than YHWH?


For now, let’s end with the words of Jesus:

  • Mark 12:28–29 (ESV) — 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.



Exploration of the Trinity – Introduction

Why Teach Trinity in Sunday School?

Dude…it’s the framework!

  • “Trinitarianism is the encompassing framework within which all Christian thought takes place…Trinity makes possible incarnation, which makes possible atonement” – Fred Sanders.
  • “The Trinity is not one doctrine among others; rather, the Trinity is our interpretive framework for all Scripture and doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity…shapes and structures Christian faith and practice in every way” – Michael Horton.


Michael Bird puts it this way:

“The Trinity is not simply a convoluted debate about theology but comprises the essential fabric of Christian talk about God. The meaning of salvation, the identity of Jesus Christ, the nature of the church, and a whole lot more stuff rides on the operation and being of God as Trinity. So it is crucial that Christians get some kind of grip on the Trinity as part of their faith in God and as part of their attempt to know God better” – Michael Bird.



The Plan:

To hopefully show why Michael Bird is correct in his above assessment (and if the Trinity is a framework), we will:

  • Survey the relevant Biblical and 2nd Temple Jewish landscape.
    • Including Monotheism.
    • Including Christology.
    • And specific relevant Biblical passages (contrasting Trinitarian and Unitarian takes).
  • Survey recent philosophical attempts to make sense of how one God can be three persons.
    • Mysterian Trinitarianism (MT).
    • Latin Trinitarianism (LT).
    • Social Trinitarianism (ST).
    • And a few others.
  • Demonstrate the significance of the Trinity to the Christian life.


My hope is that, when we are done, we will demonstrate the following to be wrong.

  • “When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life” – Kevin DeYoung.


Let’s begin with various descriptions of the Doctrine of the Trinity.

  • These will lay the foundation we will build upon throughout this series.



The Trinity Described:

The first place we find a formalized view of the Trinity is in the Nicene Creeds.


The Nicene Creeds – from 325 and then modified in 381 – describe the Trinity as follows (edited):

  • “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
  • “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
  • “And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.”


Some centuries later a creed affiliated with Athanasius popped up…summarized as follows:

“As the venerable Athanasian Creed puts it, ‘So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God.’ Belief in both the distinctness and divinity of the three persons, on one hand, and belief in the oneness or unity of God, on the other hand, are essential to orthodox Christian belief” – Thomas McCall.


The creedal beliefs described above are often presented in the form of a septad.

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


We will refer to this septad frequently throughout this series.



Modern Descriptions of the Trinity:

Michael Horton describes the Trinity this way:

  • “God as one in essence and three in person” – Pilgrim Theology.


Michael Bird says this:

  • “God is a Triune God and always has been a Triune God—a God who is three-in-one, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all equally divine but fully distinguished persons” – Evangelical Theology.


James White puts it this way:

  • “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – Forgotten Trinity.


Justin Taylor, on Desiring God, echoes the above language, and then adds:

  • “We are saying that the Trinity has one What and three Who’s” – Trinity 101.
  • Remember the “one-what”; about to use it again.



So, Why all the Confusion?

All this sounds simple enough.

  • God is one essence, substance, or being and three persons.
  • God is “one-what” and three who’s.


In fact, as Matt Perman argues on Desiring God (What is the doctrine of the Trinity?):

  • “It is not a contradiction for God to be both three and one because He is not three and one in the same way. He is three in a different way than He is one…This is very important: God is one and three at the same time, but not in the same way”.


James White agrees:

  • “We are not saying there are three Beings that are one Being, or three persons that are one person. Such would be self-contradictory” – Forgotten Trinity.


Well, not so fast!

  • We need to look at the septad again.


Trinitarian Septad:

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


We need to own up to some basic logic entailing the transitive property of equality.


The transitive property is simply this:

  • If A=B and B=C, then A=C.
  • “Equals” here means, “is identical to”.
  • It is an “is” of identity not predication (more on this later).


An illustration will help us here.

  • Let’s say we have a person, Mark Twain (A).
  • Let’s say we have a “one-what”, “author of Tom Sawyer” (B).
  • And, let’s say we have a person, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C).


We can then run this through the transitive property.

  • If Mark Twain (A) is identical to “author of Tom Sawyer” (B), and “author of Tom Sawyer” (B) is identical to Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C), then Mark Twain (A) is identical to Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C).


Yep…sounds right.

  • And it certainly wouldn’t make sense here to say, “Mark Twain is not Samuel Langhorne Clemens”.


So, lets run P2 and P3 of the Trinity septad through the transitive property.

  • If the Father (A) is identical to God (B), and God (B) is identical to the Son (C), then the Father (A) is identical to the Son (C).
  • And, as we saw above with Mark Twain, it would make no sense to say, “The Father is not the Son”.


Whoa! This is not what we want.

  • And with this, we begin to see the problem.


To further clarify, look at it this way (using the God as “one what” idea).

  • The Father is a person who is identical to “one-what” – and he is fully “one-what”.
  • But, Jesus is also a person who is identical to “one-what” – and he is fully “one-what”.
  • If they are each fully “one-what”, then they are the same person – “one-what”.
  • And, like Mark Twain and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, “one-what” has different names.


And consider this line of reasoning from Dale Tuggy.

  • We affirm that Jesus is God.
  • But, aren’t there things true of Jesus that aren’t true of God?
  • For example, “God is a Trinity. Jesus is not a Trinity.”


Well then, if Jesus is God, shouldn’t he be Trinity?

  • If God is something that Jesus is not, Jesus is not God.



Hold Up!

Obviously, all of this is something we can’t accept as Trinitarians.

  • We need to find some resolution to these problems.
  • And if the Trinity is true (which I believe it is), the solution can’t be to deny that Jesus is fully God.


And as if the logic of the Trinity isn’t confusing enough…

  • The Bible itself says things that seem to be confusing when we have the Trinity in mind.
  • We will hit on some of these in the coming weeks.


So where does this honest examination of the problems of the Trinity leave us?

  • It leaves us in the position of deconstructing our unexamined beliefs about the Trinity and rebuilding them.
  • It leaves us in the position of having to give good reasons for affirming the Trinity.
  • But…we will have to dig deep to get them.



Not Easy:

And it ain’t gonna be easy!

“Immanuel Kant famously concluded that the dogma of the Trinity was inconceivable as a concept and irrelevant to practical religion” – Scott R. Swain.


And even those who are a bit more optimistic readily admit that it is a “mysterious reality” (William Hasker).

  • “If the doctrine of the Trinity is true…we should hardly be surprised that it is mysterious” – Thomas McCall.
  • “There are only three great mysteries at the very heart of Christianity: the atonement, the incarnation, and the Trinity” – Fred Sanders.



The Mystery:

But what does it mean to call the Trinity a mystery?

  • On a topic like this, it is a huge temptation to appeal to mystery at almost every step of the way.
  • When we do so we need to be clear about what we are doing or saying.



Dale Tuggy says there are 4 kinds of appeal to mystery when faced with the problems we just raised.

  • (1) Redirection
  • (2) Restraint
  • (3) Resolution
  • (4) Resistance



(1) Redirection:

Appealing to this version of mystery is to just ignore the problems and change the subject.

  • Something like, “I’ll leave that to God it doesn’t really concern me”.
  • “I don’t really care”.


Redirection is an approach to be avoided.

  • It comes across as a cop out and avoidance of the issue.
  • It comes across as intellectually lazy.
  • It comes across as showing contempt for understanding the things of God.


Peter would have a problem with this approach.

  • 2 Peter 3:18a (ESV) — 18a But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Fortunately, the appeals to mystery that are left are a bit more intellectually honest.

  • They concede that special pleading (ignoring the problems) doesn’t make them go away.
  • “Able and responsible thinkers squarely face the appearance of contradiction, and seek to deal with it” – Dale Tuggy.


Who doesn’t want to be an “able and responsible [Christian] thinker”?



(2) Restraint:

The one who appeals to this version of mystery faces up to the problems and…

  • Will admit, “that a certain way of understanding the doctrine of the Trinity seems inconsistent” – Dale Tuggy.
  • But, nevertheless, this person will remain “committed to the truth” of the Trinity – Dale Tuggy.


And a reason for doing so is simply this:

  • Certainly, “Smarter, or more informed…” folks, from Athanasius, to Leibniz, to William Lane Craig, have all “…understood it” (Dale Tuggy).
  • So I defer to them; I piggy back on them.
  • Tuggy sees this view as a stalling tactic, which will ultimately have to be abandoned.



(3) Resolution:

Those who appeal to this version of mystery also face up to the problems…

  • And they deal with them, “by reinterpreting or revising the doctrines in question” – James Anderson.
  • In other words, the mystery arises because the creeds weren’t precise enough, or maybe too precise, or maybe got something wrong, or had poor presuppositions, etc.
  • Fix the creeds and we fix the problem.



(4) Resistance:

Those who appeal to this version of mystery also face up to the problems…

  • And they do so by believing “that the reasonable response is to learn to live with them” – Dale Tuggy.


In other words…

  • “We may not be able to banish the [problems], but we can at least tolerate them without sacrificing our rationality in the process” – James Anderson.
  • This is the “Mysterian Trinitarianism” mentioned earlier and which we will cover later.
  • It argues that the contradictions are merely apparent and not real.


Now, I said Tuggy gives 4 appeals to mystery.

  • But, I think we need to add one more…just for fun.
  • We will call it “Relational”.
  • Even though I think, at the end of the day, it is just a form of the “Redirect” approach.



(5) Relational:

This approach seems to flatten out the problems altogether.

  • “…God’s Mystery is not marked out by a realm that lies beyond our knowing…” And it does not, “lie beyond the finite limits of our intellect. Rather God is Real in our encounter with Him, and in just this way, is exceeding Mystery…” – Katherine Sonderegger.


This approach is rather shocking.


It doesn’t source the mystery to:

  • God’s transcendence.
  • Or, our creaturely brainpower.
  • Or, problematic propositions.


Mystery, on this approach, turns out to be:

  • Just who God is.
  • God is Mystery like Mark Twain is Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
  • So to encounter God is to encounter Mystery.
  • (Not to sure about this one folks.)



Mystery Wrap-Up:

So whatever we do going forward we have to avoid the first approach – Redirection.

  • Too much is at stake.
  • The Trinity informs our view of Jesus and the Incarnation.
  • It impacts our witness to Jews.
  • It impacts our witness to Muslims.
  • And on and on…


Next week, we begin to cover the Biblical landscape that informs the doctrine of the Trinity.



Romans 7:18-25 – The Christian Struggle Under Grace

Our handling of Romans 7:14-25 was from the perspective of Paul’s life before Christ.

  • And the more we dove into the text the more convinced I became this was correct.


No doubt, the text still seemed to describe something the Christian experiences.

  • “Christians can find in this description of nagging failure to do what is good an all-too-accurate reflection of their own experience” – Douglas Moo.


But, as we saw, the context of the text (the unbeliever’s address) is something far different from that of the believer.

“The believer, while he or she may, and will, struggle with sin, commit sins, and even be continually overcome by a particular, individual sin, has been freed from sin’s power (chap. 6; 8:2) and could therefore hardly be said to be…” – Douglas Moo.


Said to be:

  • sold under sin” (vs. 14).
  • the sin that dwells within me” (vs. 17).
  • nothing good dwells in me” (vs. 18)
  • not the ability to carry it out” (vs. 18).
  • captive to the law of sin” (vs 23).


In direct contrast to these things, Paul says of the Christian:

  • sin will have no dominion over you” (6:14).
  • You are…under grace” (6:14).
  • obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching” (6:17 and Jer. 31).
  • the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9).
  • have become slaves of righteousness” (6:18).


And yet:

“While ‘transferred’ into the new realm, ruled by Christ and righteousness, believers are still prone to obey those past masters, sin and the flesh” – Douglas Moo.


So, the question for today is at least twofold.

  • Does Paul speak about a Christian struggle with sin that resembles our Romans 7 text?
  • Why does the Christian – with all the changes they experience in Christ – struggle so mightily with sin?



Does Paul Speak of a Christian Struggle?

Galatians 5:16–18 (ESV) — 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.


Here Paul aptly describes the struggle of the Christian.

  • A struggle that pits the “desires of the flesh” against the “desires of the Spirit” (vs. 17).
  • A struggle that keeps you from “doing the things you want to do” (vs. 17).


And, importantly, a recognition that the Christian struggle is in a different “address” or context than the Romans 7 struggle:

  • We are now “led by the Spirit” (vs. 18).
  • We are no longer “under the law” (vs. 18).


The contrast of these two contexts or “addresses” of living – Spirit vs. Law…

  • Fits beautifully with his dominion theology of Romans.


The Law:

under the law” is Paul’s description of those pursuing the law in the context of sin’s dominion and power.

  • Romans 6:14 (ESV) — 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
  • This “under the law” is also the law from last weeks lesson – “another law” (vs. 23) and “law of sin that dwells in my members” (vs. 24).


Paul even speaks of it in Galatians:

  • Galatians 3:23 (ESV) — 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.


So this is “address” of the unbeliever’s struggle.


The Spirit:

And contrasted with “under the law” is a life “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18):

  • This is the life of the believer with a regenerated heart…
  • United to Christ by faith…
  • And lived out “under grace”.
  • Where “sin will have no dominion over you” (Romans 6:14).


So, this is the address of the believer’s struggle.


So, “Yes”…

  • Paul absolutely speaks of Christian struggle and failure.


A struggle that occurs at a new address…

  • under grace” (Romans 6:14).
  • Where we are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18).
  • Where sin no longer has “dominion over you” (Romans 6:14).


A struggle in which…

  • The believer can fail to do “the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17).


So do not despair – the Christian struggles and fails.

  • And Paul says as much.


BTW – When we dive into Romans 8 we will explore further this new life in the Spirit!

  • In Romans 8, Paul builds upon his foundation of “life in Christ” with “life in the Spirit”.
  • Romans 8:9 (ESV) — 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.


On to our next question.



Why Does the Struggle Exist?

The importance of this question is brought to bear when faced with Paul’s list of the things “of the flesh”.

  • Galatians 5:19–21a (ESV) — 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.


These are the things we do that we do not want to do.

  • And this list is by no means exhaustive.
  • And Paul acknowledges as much with, “and things like these”.


Let’s face it.

  • The things “of the flesh” that Paul lists here are the opposite of Christ-likeness.
  • And yet, we – those in Christ and in the Spirit – do them.
  • Why?



Why? – Our 2nd Question Answered:

Douglas Moo sets up the answer to our 2nd question.

“Until Christ’s return, the old age, which is resistant to God, coexists with the new; the Spirit that marks the new age is at war with the ‘flesh’ that marks the old…” – Douglas Moo.


Steve Runge agrees:

  • “The problem of sin for believers stems from the struggle between the new inner spirit and our old sinful flesh” – Steve Runge.
  • This struggle is often characterized as the “now and ‘not yet’” tension of the Christian life.


In our new “address” as believers, all this works out as follows:


Desires of the Spirit” demonstrate that we are now in Christ.

  • That we have been transferred by Christ into grace.
  • That we have been born again – given a new heart (one of flesh instead of stone – Ezk 36).
  • That we have been sealed by the Spirit.


Desires of the Flesh” demonstrate that the fleshy desires of the “I” have come along for the ride.

  • That we still have the same physical body as we did before Christ.
  • That it still exerts influence in our lives.


The Christian struggle is the clash of these two – Flesh and Spirit.

  • the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit” (vs. 17).
  • The Christian life “…goes on in the midst of an old, dying world wherein weakness and corruption, sin and death, still assault the believer” – DPL.


So, we have just seen that it makes sense that the Christian struggle exists.

  • But it raises another question.



Another Question:

Why is it that one who is in Christ and in the Spirit loses the struggle all too often?

  • Our sin, our succumbing to the “desires of the flesh”, seems to reveal that something isn’t working like it should – either the Holy Spirit or the faith that connects us to Christ.


After all, in our text today, Paul seems to say we should be sinless.

  • Galatians 5:24–25 (ESV) — 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.


And even more troubling, he seems to warn that those who do sin demonstrate that they are counterfeits.

  • Galatians 5:21b (ESV) — 21b I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
  • More on this when we get to Romans 8.
  • Romans 8:13 (ESV) — 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.


Speaking of verses 24-25, surely one who has…

  • Crucified the flesh” and…
  • Keeps “in step with the Spirit”…
  • Would stop sinning…right?
  • WRONG!


Tom Schreiner helps us here:

“When believers contemplate their own capacities, it is clear that they do not have the resources to do what God demands. In encountering God’s demands, we are still conscious of our wretchedness and inherent inability” – Tom Schreiner.



  • There is only one explanation!

“In the sovereign will of God, the Christian life is supposed to be this way. God is capable, when he pleases and for his own purposes, of giving me the grace to stand and resist temptation. But often he chooses instead, for his own good purposes, to show me grace through my falls, humbling me and teaching me my desperate need of him” – Barbara Duguid.


A Scriptural example:

  • Luke 22:31–32a (ESV) — 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32a but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.


It is incredibly interesting here that…

  • Jesus didn’t prevent this encounter, He prayed for it – why?


Peter had a pride problem.

  • When confronted with Jesus’ warning, Peter was full of himself.
  • Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33).
  • Yet, this declaration fell flat as soon as the servant girl at the gate questioned him (with John at his side).
  • John 18:17 (ESV) — 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.


Jesus had a use for Peter that apparently required that he be humbled and broken by his sin.

  • Jesus says as much at the end of verse 32.
  • Luke 22:32b (ESV) — 32b And when you have turned again [because Peter’s faith didn’t fail him], strengthen your brothers.”
  • The path to Peter’s usefulness was through sin and the recognition of his weakness and Jesus’ strength.


The point here is simple enough.

  • God could shield us from every temptation and from every fall into sin.
  • But that would leave us with only a superficial, outward conformity.


This would be like a dude ripped due to plastic surgery but not due to exercise.

  • A horrible counterfeit!


God has done something much better than that.



Under Grace:

He has transferred us into a new address of grace!

  • A place where our sin doesn’t kill us because we are united to the perfect obedience of Christ.
  • “God is not captivated by our attempts to please him; he is riveted by the obedience of his Son and delighted by the goodness of Jesus Christ” – Barbara Duguid.


We need to realize something:

Because, “…all my sins are already known to God and paid for by Christ, I am free to move forward trusting that God has planned which sins I will wrestle with. He already knows how he will walk through them with me and how he will use them to teach and strengthen me. I am freed from a relentless counting of wrongs to move into whatever God has decided is next for me, confident that his grace is always greater than all my sin” – Barbara Duguid.


And finally, this…

“If you are in Christ you are cherished, you are washed, you are clean, and you are wrapped up tightly in the perfect robes of his goodness. Wherever you have sinned and continue to sin, he has obeyed in your place. That means that you are free to struggle and fail; you are free to grow slowly; you are free at times not to grow at all; you are free to cast yourself on the mercy of God for a lifetime. Repeated failure does not mean that you are unsaved or that God is tired of you and disappointed. It does mean that he has called you to a difficult struggle and that he will hold on to you in all of your standing and falling and bring you safely home” – Barbara Duguid.



Romans 7:18-25 – Split Into Two


We have seen Paul describe 3 FHCs – features of the human condition.

  • The Sin – the power and dominion of sin.
  • The Law – given in context of “the sin”.
  • The I – the “fleshy I” who received the law in context of “the sin”.


We have seen Paul describe his experience of these three FHCs.

  • He fails to do what he wants to – the law – but accomplishes what he doesn’t want.


We have seen Paul vindicate the law and the “fleshy I” for this experience.

  • And find fault with the “the sin”.


Now, as we finish out Romans 7:

  • We will see that Paul rehashes these truths…
  • And adds a new twist.



Verse 18-21:

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.


He begins by saying, “nothing good dwells in me…

  • This is another acknowledgement that “the sin” is what dwells in him.
  • A repeat of verse 17 – “[the] sin that dwells within me” (vs. 17).
  • As we have seen previously, “the sin” is the power and dominion of sin.


Yet, he elaborates a bit with a peculiar sounding phrase.

  • that is, in my flesh


Paul here is simply – in step with the rest of our verses – summing up what he has already said.

  • So he is alluding back to verse 14 – “I am of the flesh” – or literally, the “fleshy I”.


So “in my flesh” is an elaboration of who the “me” is.

  • Paul is saying, “Nothing good dwells in ‘me’, and who is the “me”, the ‘fleshy I’”.


He then reiterates the disconnect between the “I” and the law in verses 18-19.

  • have the desire to do what is right” vs. “not the ability to carry it out” (vs. 18).
  • do not do the good I want” vs. “evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (vs. 19).


Then in verse 20 he, once again, vindicates the “I”.

  • If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it” (vs. 20).
  • This is an exact repeat of verse 17.


And, like he also did in verse 17, he proceeds to indict “the sin”.

  • but [the] sin that dwells within me” is who does it (vs. 20).
  • This is also an exact repeat of verse 17.
  • And it serves as a nice bookend with the “nothing good dwells in me” from verse 18.


Finally, in verse 21, he restates the contradiction between what he wants and what he achieves.

  • I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.


In other words, Paul found the law of God to be a law that proved to be elusive.

  • As he sought to “do right” through the law…
  • Evil (opposition to the good things of the law) was always “close at hand” (vs. 21).


Why was evil always “close at hand”?

  • As we have seen, the law was given to the “fleshy I” in context of “the sin”.
  • In this place, that the pursuit of the law would lead to evil is the whole point for Paul.
  • It is part of the logic Paul has been employing since verse 14.
  • Good intentions can’t remedy this predicament.




Question…when Paul says he does not have “the ability to carry it out” (vs. 18), what kind of ability is he talking about?

  • Let’s make this question easier.
  • If we distinguish two kinds of abilities – moral and natural – to which is Paul referring?


Paul certainly has the natural or physical capacity to do what is right.

  • His problem is that his moral ability has been compromised by the power of sin in him.
  • Unwittingly, in his zealous pursuit of the law, he acted in service of the power of sin – like his persecution of Jesus.
  • Thus he, as he said in Romans 6, was a slave to sin.


Which “ability” leads unbelievers to reject Christ?



Verses 22-23 and 25b:

Romans 7:22–23 (ESV) — 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 25b So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.


In verses 22-23 and 25b, Paul reflects further on why:

  • Evil is always “close at hand” for…
  • The person (Paul/Jew) living under the power of “the sin” and pursuing the good things of the law.


He does this with warfare imagery.

  • But, before we can go through the warfare Paul is describing…
  • We need to grasp the contrast Paul uses to setup the war.



Paul’s Contrast:

The contrast is the way, as N.T. Wright says, Paul portrays the law as being “split into two” between:

  • (1) Paul’s Good Intentions with the law.
  • (2) Evil’s Grasp of the law.


(1) Paul’s Good Intentions with the law.

“Imagine Paul as a young man praying Psalm 19 or Psalm 119, studying Torah prayerfully day and night, longing to wrap it around him like a cloak, to make it his way of life, his every breath. Not only is there nothing wrong with that; it is exactly what Israel was meant to do” – N.T. Wright.

  • This reflects the zeal Paul had for the law as a good Jew.

(2) Evil’s Grasp of the law.

“But the closer you hug the law to yourself, if you are still ‘in Adam’, the more the law is bound to say ‘But you’re a sinner!’ Worse: it will not only accuse, it will tempt…[and bring death]. It looks as though the law has developed a shadowy copy of itself, a negative identity which seems to be fighting on the side of sin against what the ‘I’ longs to do” – N.T. Wright.


So these are the two forces at war with each other – Paul’s good intentions and evil’s grasp.

  • And any good war needs soldiers.


The Soldiers:

Interestingly the soldiers Paul introduces to us are all part of his person:

  • Paul pits his “inner being” and “mind”…
  • Against his “flesh” and “members”.


Paul introduced us to the “flesh” and “members” earlier:

  • Romans 7:5 (ESV) — 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.


Essentially the “flesh” and “members” in our text represent:

  • “The physical body in which the power of sin exerts its power” – Schreiner.
  • Or more crudely, the “human limbs required for action” – Robert Jewett.


Think of it this way:

  • The “flesh” and “members” are the conduits through which Paul’s “do what I do not want” takes place.


The “inner being” and “mind” represent:

  • Something like, “the inner moral monitor that responds to, and appropriates, God’s law” – Douglas Moo.
  • And “the reasoning side of a person” – Douglas Moo.


Think of it this way:

  • The “inner being” and “mind” are where Paul’s “desire to do what is right” (vs. 18) takes place.


This is the capacity Paul speaks of in Romans 2 – all unbelievers have it.

  • Romans 2:14 (ESV) — 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
  • This is why no one is without excuse.




We need to be careful in over estimating Paul’s estimation of the mind.

“All that Paul is saying is that the [mind or inner being] of the non-Christian is capable of approving the demands of God in his law” – Douglas Moo.


He is not suggesting that a person’s reasoning skills are somehow unaffected by the power of sin.

  • Paul clearly teaches that the unbeliever’s mind is “is perverted and darkened [Eph. 4:18], preventing them from thinking correctly about God and the world” – Douglas Moo.
  • After all, in Romans 1:28 he calls the mind “debased”.


We also need to be careful not to under estimate Paul’s view of the flesh in a general sense.

  • Paul obviously saw the flesh as “part of the person which is particularly susceptible to sin” – Moo.
  • But, he was a Jew – not a Platonist.
  • This means he did not view creation/material stuff as inherently opposed to, or inferior to, spiritual reality.


This is important to get right because of one word:

  • Resurrection!
  • Unlike all of Paul’s Hellenistic neighbors, he looked forward to eternal life as bodily resurrection.


So to review:

  • We have Paul’s “inner being” and “mind” (reason or conscience) – fighting on the side of his good intentions with the law.
  • Versus…
  • Paul’s “flesh” and “members” (physical body) – fighting on the side of evil’s grasp of the law.



Text Redux:

Now we can go back to the text:

  • Romans 7:22–23 (ESV) — 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 25b So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.


Given what we have just learned we can easily figure out what Paul is telling us.

  • His “inner being” and “mind” delight in God’s law (again, think Psalm 19).
  • Psalm 19:7 (ESV) — 7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;


Back to the text.


And his “flesh” and “members” are “waging war” against Paul’s good intentions with the law.

  • If fact, they are part of the reason evil has the law in its grasp.


And the outcome of the war is that the “inner being” and “mind” lose the fight.

  • This loss speaks both to the power of “the sin” and the fact that, as we saw in our caution, the mind is impaired by sin.


The result of the loss is devastating!

  • Paul’s mind and reason – his good intentions – are taken “captive to the law of [the] sin”.
  • More on this captivity in a second.


He ends in verse 25b with what sounds like a hopeful note.

  • He serves the “law of God with my mind”.


But, we have just seen that this comes to nothing.

  • This service ends in captivity.
  • It ends with slavery to sin.


So this is not a statement of triumph, but despair.

  • For he quickly reminds us of the very bad news…
  • but with my flesh I serve the law of sin”.




So Paul says he was a “captive to the law of [the] sin”.

  • We need to unpack this a bit more.


The idea with Paul’s captivity language is brutal.

  • Paul is telling us that all his good intentions with God’s law were futile.
  • His mind and its intentions were captive “to the tyranny” of sin’s power – Tom Schreiner.


Robert Jewett has a really good insight into the significance of Paul’s captivity language.

  • He says that this language would have had a “profound meaning for its hearers”.


I will quote him at length.

“In the Roman Empire, defeat [in a war] implied subsequent slavery, death in an imperial theater, or if a prisoner was particularly important or attractive, he would be executed in honor of Jupiter at the end of a victory parade. For example, at the end of the Jewish-Roman war, Josephus reports that, of the ninety-seven thousand [prisoners], those who had borne arms should be executed immediately after their capture, that the ‘tallest and most handsome of the youth’ were reserved for the triumphal parade in Rome [after which they would be executed], while the rest were either enslaved or ‘presented by Titus to the provinces, to be destroyed in the theaters by the sword or by wild beasts’…since the majority of the members of the early house and tenement churches in Rome were either slaves or former slaves…this formulation would have a particularly powerful resonance” – Robert Jewett.


What this means is that the captivity Paul speaks of is not a Geneva Convention captivity.

  • One in which the war will end and the captive will be set free.
  • It is, rather, a brutal and fruitless struggle against certain death.


And this leads us to our final bit of text from Romans 7.



Verses 24-25a:

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!


Here Paul expresses the hopeless state of his pre-Christ condition as a captive – wretched – and…

  • Of his incredible gratitude for the person and work of Jesus Christ.


It is only because of Christ that Paul can look back on his hopeless and fruitful struggle…

  • And give such huge thanks that he has been delivered from its certain death.
  • Something Paul uses Romans 8 to fully express!


We can now fully appreciate Paul’s words in Romans 7:4.

  • Romans 7:4 (ESV) — 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.



Romans 7:16-17 – Culprit of Corruption


So verse 14 contains 3 FHCs – features of the human condition.

  • The Sin – the power and dominion of sin.
  • The Law – given in context of “the sin”.
  • The I – the “fleshy I” who received the law in context of “the sin”.


In verse 15, Paul begins to explore his/Israel’s experience under these three FHCs.

  • “I didn’t know why, but my use of the law didn’t bring about the things it should, but accomplished the wrong things”.


We saw that the things Paul was probably seeking to bring about included:

  • Blessing
  • Salvation
  • Honoring God
  • The Age to Come


And we saw that his failure to accomplish these things was best demonstrated by:

  • Both his persecution of Christians, and opposition to Jesus Christ.
    • The very one who was bringing about the age to come.
  • Fortunately, for all of us, Paul’s “blindness” was remedied by, ironically, being blinded by the light.



Verse 16:

“Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.”


So, to “do what I do not want” is a rephrase of “I do the very thing I hate” from verse 15.

  • Paul, through an attempted right relationship with the law…
  • Accomplishes the wrong things
  • Lives in opposition to God
  • Opposes the Messiah


After this rephrasing, Paul makes an interesting observation.

  • Accomplishing the stuff he doesn’t want through his relationship with the law…
  • Actually shows that he agrees, “with the law, that it is good”.
  • This seems a bit strange.


The question is how on earth does Paul come to this conclusion?

  • One would think, as his detractors accused him of teaching, that Paul would have to say that the law is flawed.


I think we can figure out the answer to our question this way…

  • Paul knew what God demanded of His people.
  • Paul knew that the things demanded by God were good things.


So, what was it that showed Paul the good things that God demanded?

  • Not the “fleshy I”.
  • Not “the sin”.
  • But, the law!


So, the only reason Paul understood that he was trapped in a struggle of the will was…

  • The law.


This is why Paul could conclude the law is good…because without the law:

  • He would have been profoundly clueless about his predicament.


In fact, the law actually served to illuminate two crucial things.

  • (1) The presence of God’s will.
  • (2) The perversion of God’s will.


And importantly, this simultaneous presence of God’s law and perversion of it…

  • “Point[ed] to a deeper problem…” – Jewett.


In other words, the situation was incredibly dire.

  • A Jew, who wanted to accomplish the right things through the law, could not do so.
  • Their attempts to accomplish the good things of God through the law were doomed.
  • The law and the “fleshy I” were powerless “to do anything but aggravate sin” – Jewett.


So who is to blame for the perversion of God’s will?

  • How does Paul explain this “awful contradiction” (Jewett)?
  • For once again, he vindicated the law from any responsibility.



Verse 17a – First Answer:

So now it is no longer I who do it”

  • Paul’s first answer to this question is unexpected.


Paul comes to a rather surprising conclusion about where blame lies for the perversion of the law.

  • It does not lie with the “fleshy I”!


Paul says, “it is no longer I who do it”.

  • Or as some translate this…
  • “Now [or therefore], surely it is not I who do it” – Jewett.
  • In other words, Paul has come to the logical conclusion that the “I” is not to blame.


Say what?

  • Is Paul really saying the “I” is not the one perverting the law of God?


So, from here I want to look at two things.

  • Confirm this is really what Paul is saying.
  • And unpack his logic.




Let’s take a look at what the scholars say:

  • John Murray says that Paul really does “dissociate his own self from the sin committed.”
  • Tom Schreiner says, “Paul affirms that [the] ‘I’ [is] not performing the evil”.
  • Douglas Moo says that, “What is no longer true…is that [Paul] can be considered the one who is ‘doing’ these actions that he deplores” – Douglas Moo.
  • “[Paul] has exonerated the law from blame in the catastrophe that has overtaken Israel. He has even exonerated the ‘I’” – N.T. Wright.



Paul’s Logic:

So how can this be?

  • What is the logic of Paul’s argument?


I think we can tease it out in a syllogism.

  • My intent is to accomplish the right things of the law.
  • I end up accomplishing the wrong things.
  • Therefore, “it is no longer Iwho accomplishes the wrong things.
  • Therefore, it must be something else accomplishing the wrong things.


So, Paul is affirming here that:

  • “…there was nothing wrong with being Israel, nothing wrong with wanting to keep God’s law” – N.T. Wright.
  • Remember Psalm 19:7ff – “The law of the Lord is perfect…


But, he is also affirming that:

  • There must be “something besides himself involved in the situation” – Douglas Moo.
  • “Since the ‘I’ is not doing what it desires, then evil work must derive not from the ‘I’ but from” something else – Tom Schreiner.
  • “Paul reasons, there must be another ‘actor’ in the drama, another factor that interferes with his performance of what he wants to do” – Douglas Moo.


And this brings us to Paul’s second answer – the “something else” that is to blame.



Verse 17b – Second Answer:

“but sin that dwells within me.”

  • Paul says the “other factor”…
  • The thing that is the culprit of corruption
  • Is…“the sin”


It is the power and dominion of sin that wreaks havoc on Paul’s/Israel’s relationship with the law.

  • “Sin causes a…contradiction between [the] willing and achieving the good” – Jewett.


And the most explosive part of this revelation from Paul is the location of “the sin”.

  • He says it, “dwells within me”.
  • “Sin is not a power that operates ‘outside’ the person, making him do its bidding; sin is something resident in the very being, ‘dwelling’ within the person, ruling over him or her like a master over a slave” – Douglas Moo.


The implications for this are huge.

  • The law does not dwell within a person!
  • God introduces it from the outside.
  • And it is unable to overcome the power of the resident alien that rules the person from within – “the sin” – the culprit of corruption.
  • Again, as we saw last week, this is total depravity.


Understanding that “the sin” dwells within the “I”…

  • And the law dwells outside of the “I”…
  • Really opens up some important Bible texts.


For example, it illuminates why Jeremiah looks forward to this:

  • Jeremiah 31:31–33 (ESV) — 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.


We can now see that what Jeremiah is describing here is:

  • A time when “the sin” will be evicted from within…
  • And the law will replace it; a law put “within them”.


Only then will…

  • The disconnect between the willing and the achieving be remedied.


This truth also illuminates Paul’s words in Philippians:

  • Philippians 2:13 (ESV) — 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
  • In Christ, it is no longer “the sin” working “in you”.


This is a huge freedom!

  • Sin has been displaced from within the “I”.
  • And now God dwells there.
  • This distinction will be important to understand when we deal with the struggles of the Christian.



Gospel Application Rabbit Trail:

Here is how this cashes out for the unbeliever today.

  • They know the difference generally between right and wrong (Romans 1 & 2).
  • And they generally try and do the right thing.


So when we speak the Gospel…

  • We can affirm with them the goodness of this desire to do what is right.
  • We can consider with them the source of this desire.
    • God the law-giver?
  • We can also affirm with them there are times of failure to do what is right.
  • We can describe Paul’s very same struggle.
  • We can ask them to consider why one might seek to do right and fail.
  • We can surprise them with Paul’s truth that the “I” is not the reason for the failure.
  • We can, in agreement with Paul, show them how the reason for failure is that the power of sin has enslaved and entangled the “I”.
  • We can finally show them that sin’s power over them is demonstrated by the fact that they reject Christ.



Back to the Text:

An obvious question with Paul’s vindication of the “I” is…

  • Isn’t Paul basically saying the devil made me do it?


Douglas Moo puts it in stark terms:

  • Paul would appear to be saying something unlikely and, indeed, dangerous: that he is not responsible for his actions”.


And yet, scholars don’t hesitate to say:

  • “Paul does not absolve the ἐγώ of personal responsibility for sin” – Tom Schreiner.


So how can Paul vindicate the “I” and not absolve it of responsibility at the same time?


Paul’s own words help us here.

  • He says this “the sin” dwells “within me”.
  • Paul concedes here that “sin and the self are inextricably tangled” – Jewett.
  • His will might be a slave to sin, but it is still his will.
  • For as Jesus pointed out…
    • Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4b).
    • Jesus didn’t say why is “the sin” persecuting me through you.


How is it that this horrible condition came to exist?

  • Adam’s disobedience led to the Garden Exile of us all.


I love how Moo sums up this predicament and our text:

“Because of our involvement in the sin of Adam, ‘sin’ has become resident in all people; and those outside Christ—such as the Jew under the law, as Paul once was—cannot ultimately resist sin’s power. Thus they are unable to do the good that God requires of them” – Douglas Moo.