Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #3 – What is Jihad?

answering jihad

This is the third in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #3 – WHAT IS JIHAD?

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THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ISLAM defines jihad in this way: “In law, according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam and, if need be, of its defense.” This is a fairly standard definition of jihad among scholars of Islam in the West.

In broader Muslim literature there appears to be no such widely accepted definition, but that makes sense given the various kinds of jihad and the myriad application of the term found in classical and modern Islamic literature. The primary meaning of jihad as used by pre-modern Muslim jurists is “warfare with spiritual significance.” This definition appeals more to Qureshi than the standard scholarly definition, because it reflects the reality of a less than rigid use of the term.

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The popular definition of jihad as “Islamic holy war” is misleading. The words holy war are charged with connotations of the Christian Crusades, but the impetus and theological justification of the Crusades were markedly different from jihad, as Qureshi will explore in Question 17.

THE DEVELOPING DOCTRINE OF JIHAD

Part of the reason why jihad is so difficult to define is that the Arabic word itself means “strife” or “struggle,” and it is not always used in a doctrinal sense. The Qur’an appears to use the term to mean a “struggle for spiritual purposes,” at times remaining ambiguous about whether a violent or non-violent struggle is in view. In fact, some verses do use the word jihad as a purely spiritual struggle, such as Surah 22:78.

The Qur’an frequently uses the word in reference to a violent struggle for spiritual purposes. A clear example of this is a discussion of warfare in Surah 2:216-218, which culminates in Allah’s approval of those who undertake this jihad: “Warfare is prescribed for you, though you dislike it… Behold, those who believe, emigrate, and undertake jihad, these have hope of the mercy of Allah.” It is incorrect to argue, as do some apologists for Islam in the West, that the word can only refer to a spiritual struggle. Even in the Qur’an that is demonstrably false, let alone in the tradition of Muhammad’s life.

In fact, when it comes to the hadith, far and away the most frequent context of jihad is violent physical struggle. Qureshi will explore this issue further in Question 4, which will be published here next Friday. But for now, we will merely note that this meaning makes sense when we consider the time during which the canonical hadith collections were compiled, which was at the pinnacle of Islamic conquests. The Muslim community then preserved those traditions that were most relevant to them. In so doing, they solidified the term jihad in the direction of a violent spiritual struggle.

By the time of the great Muslim jurists, the generations that founded various schools of Islamic thought and enumerated codes of Sharia, jihad had developed into a fairly systematized doctrine of warfare. Conditions and rules of jihad conduct had been developed based on the relevant verses of the Qur’an and hadith traditions of Muhammad. For example, jihad could not be the endeavor of a rogue Muslim, but had to be formally declared by a legitimate authority among the Muslim people, most likely the caliph, the leader of the Muslims. [So much for validation of the “lone wolf” ISIS sympathizers.] The impetus for jihad must be of critical importance for the religion of Islam itself, or at least for a great number of Muslims. The causes ought to be specified prior to engaging in warfare, as well as the terms for resolution. These rules of conduct explain why al-Qaeda regularly broadcasted proclamations of jihad with Usama Bin Laden prominently displayed as an authority, airing lists of grievances against the West and demands for the cessation of hostilities. The endeavor was not simply for dramatic purposes, but also to fulfill the classical conditions for appropriately launching jihad.

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There are other requirements of jihad that classical jurists upheld, conditions that were grounded in Muhammad’s teachings for the sake of humane warfare. These included refraining from killing non-combatants or looting their property, restraint from disfiguring the corpses of fallen enemies, prohibitions against scorched-earth policies, and more. Depending on the jurist, treatments of jihad differed in exact rules and emphases. Although many jurists appeared concerned with combatant conduct for legalistic purposes, by the classical era of Islam there was a definite concern for moral warfare and attempts to limit collateral damage by some jurists.

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Of course, the mere enumeration of rules of jihad did not necessitate their enforcement, and it is clear that Muslims did not always follow them. For example, non-combatants were frequently slaughtered in eighth- and ninth-century Islamic conquests. In addition, Muslim-on-Muslim jihad was proclaimed at times during the classical era, even though these pronouncements should have been categorized as non-jihad hostilities. To be clear, examples of Muslim-on-Muslim violence in the past were not the same as contemporary Muslim-on-Muslim jihad, which is often rationalized by accusing enemies of being apostates. This is a modern development, though with ancient roots, as Qureshi will demonstrate in Question 7.

Although the concept of jihad continues to develop to this day, one theme remains consistent. Because jihad is a struggle for spiritual purposes, a mujahid enjoys the benefit of Allah’s blessing. This promise is in the Qur’an itself, and it partially explains the prevalence of jihad throughout Islamic history, especially among those most zealous for Allah’s approval.

THE USE OF TERROR

Although the Qur’an probably does not envision something similar to twenty-first century terrorism, it does command Muslims to use terror and spread fear: “Prepare against them all the strength and war horses that you can to strike terror into the enemies of Allah and your enemies.” This teaching of the Qur’an is corroborated through the hadith, as Muhammad said, “I have been made victorious with terror.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.220). Casting fear into the heart of Allah’s enemies is thus enjoined in the Qur’an and has a precedent in Muhammad’s life.

THE GREATER JIHAD AND THE LESSER JIHAD

A regular feature in Western scholarly discussions about jihad is the distinction between the greater jihad and the lesser jihad. The account reads: “A number of fighters came to the Messenger of Allah, and he said: ‘You have done well in coming from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.’ They said: ‘What is the greater jihad?’ He said: ‘For the servant [of God] to fight his passions.'” (Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Zuhd al-Kabir). From this tradition, a number of scholars and apologists defend the notion that jihad ought to be primarily understood as a spiritual struggle and secondarily understood as a physical one.

Although Sufi Muslims did develop the notion of “greater jihad” beginning in the twelfth century, there are significant problems with using the quotation above as a proof text for the primacy of peaceful jihad. Perhaps the most significant problem is that the Qur’an teaches the exact opposite. In Surah 4:95, the Qur’an says, “Not equal are those believers who are sedentary, other than the disabled, and those who undertake jihad in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has granted a grade higher to those who strive with their wealth and lives than to those who sit.” The exemption for the disabled makes the verse particularly clear. Physical fighting is more virtuous than not, according to the Qur’an.

This may be why none of the canonical collections of hadith include the tradition of the greater jihad; those compilers either did not know the hadith or considered it too dubious for inclusion in their collections. As Muslim scholars assert, and as Western scholars ought to agree, it is inappropriate to look at an entire doctrine through the lens of a single hadith, especially if that tradition is not in any of the canonical collections. The fact that the tradition directly contravenes a Qur’anic teaching should put the matter out of dispute: The notion that spiritual jihad is greater than physical jihad has no place in the foundations of Islam.

THE “SIXTH PILLAR” OF ISLAM

On the contrary, physical jihad was given such a place of prominence in the foundations of Islam that it has been honorifically referred to by some Muslim scholars as “the sixth pillar.” The Five Pillars of Islam are the minimum practices incumbent on all Muslims: proclaiming the shahada, reciting daily prayers, paying alms, fasting during Ramadan, and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. However, in the canonical hadith collections, a great emphasis is also placed on the Muslim’s duty to participate in jihad. Perhaps this is why, even in the earliest categorized hadith collections, the sections on jihad usually followed immediately after the sections on the Five Pillars. These traditions, as we shall see ahead, seem to imply that fighting is a requisite duty of all who are able.

CONCLUSION

Though the word jihad literally means “struggle,” and the Qur’an at times uses it in a spiritual context, the primary use of the word has always implied a physical struggle for spiritual purposes. The doctrine of jihad has been developing from the time of the Qur’an until today, in the classical era being expounded to include a code of conduct with injunctions designed to preserve innocent lives and lesson collateral damage. These rules, however, have not always been enforced.

The portrayal of jihad as primarily a spiritual endeavor, often by referring to the tradition of the “greater jihad,” is inconsistent with the Qur’an, the canonical hadith collections, Islamic history, and classical Islamic hermeneutics. It is an argument that has little grounding in reality. On the contrary, the foundations of Islam consistently portray jihad as primarily a physical struggle, as will be explored in Question 4 next Friday.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #4 – Is Jihad in the Qur’an and the Life of Muhammad? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #2 – Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

answering jihad

This is the second in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #2 – IS ISLAM A RELIGION OF PEACE?

Nabeel Qureshi writes, “Since I was born, I was taught by imams and my family that Islam is a religion of peace. What is surprising, in retrospect, is that this popular slogan may not have been around much earlier than that.”

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THE MEANING OF THE WORD ISLAM

Mark Durie, a research scholar of Linguistics and Islam at Melbourne School of Theology, informs us in an article for the Independent Journal, “Islam was first called the ‘religion of peace’ as late as 1930, in the title of a book published in India… The phrase was slow to take off, but by the 1970s it was appearing more and more frequently in the writings of Muslims for Western audiences.”

Whether or not one agrees that the slogan first appeared in the twentieth century, it is beyond dispute that the Qur’an never says, “Islam is the religion of peace,” nor do the traditions of Muhammad. This common misconception may stem from another, the oft-repeated assertion that the word Islam means “peace.” It does not. The Arabic word Islam means “surrender,” though it is related to the word for peace, which is salaam. Durie sheds light on the nature of the relationship and the origin of the word Islam: “The word Islam is based upon a military metaphor. Derived from aslama, ‘surrender,’ its primary meaning is to make oneself safe (salama) through surrender. In its original meaning, a Muslim was someone who surrendered in warfare.”

In an Islamic community, Muslims are taught that the “surrender” of Islam was a submission of one’s will and life to Allah, which Qureshi argues is noble and does not connote violence. But to contend that the word Islam signifies peace in the absence of violence is incorrect. Islam signifies a peace after violence, or under the threat of it. According to Islamic tradition, that is how Muhammad himself used the word. His warning to neighboring tribes is famous: Aslim taslam, which means, “If you surrender, you will have peace.” It was a play on words, as aslim also connotes becoming Muslim: “If you convert, you will have safety through surrender.”

So the word Islam refers to the peace that comes from surrender. Peaceful Muslim communities today present that imagery as a spiritual peace with Allah, but records of Muhammad’s life indicate that the notion of submission was also used in military contexts.

FROM ETYMOLOGY TO HISTORY

A more appropriate avenue for answering whether Islam is a religion of peace is the life and teachings of its prophet, Muhammad. The Qur’an and the traditions (hadith) of Islam’s prophet are far more definitive than the etymology of the word Islam. Qureshi plans a more in-depth discussion in Question #4, but suffice it to say for now that no one can honestly deny the presence of violence in both the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad. From the time Muhammad first obtained a following that could successfully fight, he launched raids and battles every year until he died. According to David Cook in Understanding Jihad, he commissioned or personally participated in eighty-six battles during that time, which is more than nine battles a year.

The Qur’an refers often to these campaigns, many times in approbation. For example, Chapter 8 of the Qur’an is about the Muslims’ first major battle, the Battle of Badr, and it teaches that Allah is the one who led the Muslims, that he compelled the Muslims to attack the Meccans, that he supplied them with angelic assistance, and that he was the one who slew the Meccans through the hands of the Muslims. There is no avoiding the presence and even the glorification of violence in this chapter, or elsewhere throughout Islam’s origins.

The battles of the early Muslim community seem to have escalated in a crescendo toward the end of Muhammad’s life, not halting with his death, but rather catapulting into global proportions. As soon as the prophet Muhammad died, there came the apostate wars, then the overthrow of Persia, and then the campaigns of Egypt and beyond. Within two centuries of the advent of Islam, Muslim conquests expanded Islamic territory from the shores of the Atlantic well into the valleys of India. At the end of that era, the most influential hadith collectors gathered whole books documenting Muhammad’s conduct and commands during times of warfare. Shortly after them, the great Islamic jurists systematically codified Sharia, Islamic law, devoting whole branches of jurisprudence to the proper practice of warfare.

For these reasons, no one can claim that “Islam is a religion of peace” in the sense that the religion has been historically devoid of violence, neither in its origins nor in the history of the global Muslim community. Apart from the first thirteen years of Islamic history, when there were not enough Muslims to fight, Islam has always had an elaborate practice or doctrine of war.

IN WHAT WAY MIGHT ISLAM BE A RELIGION OF PEACE?

Qureshi says, “In my experience, most Muslims who repeat this slogan have not critically considered the history of Islam. Those who have and [who] continue to say it mean it in one of two senses: a spiritual sense or an idealized sense.” In the spiritual sense, it is understood that Islam brings peace to a person through personal discipline, a right relationship with other Muslims, and submission toward the Creator, Allah. This sense of the slogan is irrelevant as a response to violent jihad.

In the idealized sense, it is generally meant that Islam brings peace to this world. Though battles have been fought, they were fought out of necessity. Ideally, the goal that Islam strives for is peace throughout the world. According to this sense, Islam can be a religion of peace despite the presence of war, so this sense of the slogan is also irrelevant as a response to violent jihad. (Some who espouse this view argue that the wars in the foundation of Islam were defensive endeavors, and argument that Qureshi will consider in Question #4.)

THE WEST AND THE RELIGION OF PEACE

Unfortunately, neither of these more viable and nuanced approaches appears to be in mind when Western media and Western leaders proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace. Rather, such proclamations appear to be little more than attempts to change public perception of Islam, albeit for a noble cause such as precluding retaliation against innocent Muslims. We often hear the loudest proclamations of Islam’s peacefulness in the wake of the most heinous jihadist violence. President George W. Bush called Islam peaceful after September 11. Prime Minister Tony Blair called Islam a peaceful religion after the July 7 London bombings. President François Hollande make the same proclamation after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. This regular juxtaposition of extreme Islamic violence with a strong insistence that Islam is a religion of peace is obviously jarring, and not just to Westerners.

The Syrian Sheikh Ramadan al-Buti, considered one of the most influential traditionalist Sunni scholars in the world today, saw an insistence on Islam’s peacefulness as an effort by the West to emasculate Islam. If Western leaders and Western media repeat it enough, perhaps Muslims themselves will begin to believe it. He asserted in The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography that the West was seeking to “erase the notion of jihad from the minds of all Muslims.” In asserting this position, the sheikh showed characteristic Middle Eastern candor in his assessment of peace and violence in Islam. Tragically, he was himself killed by a suicide bomb in 2013.

CONCLUSION

Instead of seeking to redefine Islam, Qureshi believes we should consider more thoughtful and honest approaches. The question of whether Islam can be a religion of peace in spiritual or idealized senses ought to be considered, but the implication that Islam is a religion devoid of violence is simply false. The frequent proclamations by leaders and media members of Islam’s peacefulness may be well-intended, but more is needed than good intentions.

Instead, Qureshi says, “We must open our eyes and not allow ourselves to remain blind to evident facts in our attempts to either protect or sway Muslims. Though violence is writ large throughout the pages of Islamic history, including in its foundations, that does not mean our Muslim neighbors are violent. Muslims deserve to be treated with the kindness and respect due to all people.” In fact, their journeys may be leading many of them to confront Islam’s violence for the first time, as Qureshi’s journey once did, and they, too, may be approaching a critical three-pronged fork in the road.

Qureshi concludes, “May our eyes and our arms both be open to them.”

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #3 – What is Jihad? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Hatred

In light of the nationwide bickering and outright disrespect each seems to have for the other this year in particular, I felt it fitting to reblog this poem I wrote in 2008 and included in a post from nearly two years ago. I long for your feedback. God bless America.

The Accidental Poet

That hatred you have for everyone, that global anger,
Is going to kill you.
It doesn’t matter how justified you are, or how wrong the other person is.
You can fume and cuss and scream, complain and blame everything on others,
But it’s just going to eat you alive.
You can get pissed off at me for telling you this,
Give me the cold stare and refuse to talk to me
Until the end of time, but it won’t change a thing.
Hatred will kill you.

1998 Steven Barto

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Through All of It

As most of my followers know, I struggled for nearly four decades with addiction. I was able to put down the drink and the pot pipe in 2008, but I held on to one thing. One “ace up my sleeve.” One exception. One excuse. Opioid painkillers. This latest struggle has taken me through some ugly places. Despite legitimate severe pain, I cannot responsibly use such medicines as Vicodin, Percocet, or Ultram. During my last bout, I fell down the rabbit hole after taking 90 Vicodin in 4 days.

My opioid binges remind me of the example of the jaywalker in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. At first, he makes it across the street. But then he gets hit by a car and suffers some bumps and bruises. He’s not phased, though, and continues to jaywalk. The next time, he suffers a broken wrist. Again, he decides to try jaywalking, only to sustain a broken leg. This continues without end. He is actually showing behavior that demonstrates the true definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over, expecting different results. So was I.

For me, what always follows is withdrawal symptoms that include irritability, anger, lying, denial, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and severe diarrhea. Once I level out, I get my appetite back. I see the sun shining again. I get back out the door. I return to my usual outgoing, polite self. I do my laundry. I wash my car. My problem with drugs and alcohol began at age 18 when I drank a Miller Lite and smoked a joint. I was an addict from the start. (I don’t remember ever drinking “just one.”) My regret has always been the terrible ways I’ve treated people. Used and manipulated them. Two wives. My mother. My children. My siblings. My friends.

Today, I am more determined than ever to stand against my addiction. My mantra now is to tell my addiction (whose name is Satan) that I am an ambassador of Christ, and that my body is an embassy. It is “foreign soil.” I tell the devil he is not permitted to enter. I rebuke him in the Name of Jesus, refusing to even open the gate. I have taken a totally different approach to pain management over the last two weeks. I am using modalities I’ve only “considered” in the past: chiropractic; stretching 3 times a day; walking about a half a mile every day; hydrotherapy; laying hands on painful spots and asking God to send relief to those exact areas; meditation; weight loss.

I have definitively decided, after years of struggle and denial, that I cannot safely use narcotic pain medication. I’ve put all of my physicians on notice, saying they are not to give me anything, even if it’s a year from now, or I beg them. I stay away from friends who routinely use such medications. I attend regular NA meetings, and I see a Christian psychotherapist who went to seminary and post-graduate studies. I have stepped up my interaction with fellow believers, listen exclusively to contemporary Christian music, and began classes online  at Colorado Christian University in 2015. I attend weekly individual and group outpatient drug and alcohol treatment. And, finally, I have an NA sponsor rather than an AA sponsor. This works best for me. I recently spent over an hour on my knees crying and seeking God’s face, realizing just how out of touch I’ve been. How much I’ve missed. How much sorrow I’ve spread.

This contemporary  Christian song hits me hard every time I hear it. I changed one phrase to suit my situation. (See the brackets.) This song, by Colton Dixon, can help all of us, but it has become especially inspiring for me. I am reprinting the lyrics below.

There are days of taking more than I can give
And there are choices that I made that I wouldn’t make again
I’ve had my share of laughter
Of tears and troubled times
This has been the story of my life

I have won
And I have lost
I got it right sometimes, but [most] times I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret
Oh, and You have been my God through all of it

You were there when it all came down on me
When I was blinded by my fear and I struggled to believe
But in those unclear moments You were the one keeping me strong
This is how my story’s always gone

I have won
And I have lost
I got it right sometimes, but [most] times I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret
Oh, and You have been my God through all of it
Oh, through all of it

And this is who You are, more constant than the stars
Up in the sky, all these years, all my life
I, I look back and I see You
Right now I still do
And I’m always going to

I have won
And I have lost
I got it right sometimes, but sometimes I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret
Oh, and You have been my God through all of it

If you want to listen to it, click here.

A Very Profound Passage

I had to repost this. Sorry, but I forgot to properly cite the Scripture passage when I left out “Luke.” Enjoy this profound statement from Jesus. Please click on the link in the post to take in the blog post it came from.

The Accidental Poet

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.  For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:21-24)

The above Scripture is one of the most profound I have read in a long time. It comes from a blog post by Don Merritt. You can find the entire post here: https://lifereference.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/the-72-return/

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A Study in Romans Chapter 7

This is the second installment in a three-part Bible Study in Romans 6, 7, and 8.

Paul clarifies the relationship between the law and sin in Romans Chapter 7. The heading for Chapter 7 in Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message is Torn Between One Way and Another. Paul begins by giving us an analogy from marriage. He says in Romans 7:1, “Do you not know, brothers and sisters, for I am speaking to those that know the law, that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?” Paul has already argued in Chapter 6 (as we saw in Part One of this study) that we died with Christ, and we have therefore died to sin. In Chapter 7 he will argue that, in our union with Christ, we also died to the law. When we died to sin we also died to the law of Moses. In the eyes of the law, we are dead.

We have been given new life with Christ. So where does that put us?  Paul’s second point is that we are under a new authority. In verse 2, he uses the analogy of marriage, in which death can affect the legal status of the living. He says, “For example, a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.” The law of marriage is binding only so long as both partners are alive. As soon as one dies, the marriage restrictions are gone. By comparison, under the old covenant, we were bound to the law. But since we died with Christ, we are released from the law, and as a result, a new union can be formed. That’s what Paul is interested in – a new union. Because a death has occurred – the death of Jesus Christ – a new relationship can be formed.

Paul applies his analogy to the law in verse 4. He says, “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him that was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Paul’s point is that death breaks the bond of the law, and a new bond is permitted. As believers, we died to the law through the death of Christ, and our allegiance is to Him rather than the law. We have to be released from the law so we can be united with Christ.

We are supposed to avoid sin, but sin is no longer defined by the laws of Moses. Rather, it is defined by the character of Christ. We are to conform to Him, and since He is not bound by the law of Moses, neither are we. We belong to the One “who was raised from the dead.” Why? To “bear fruit for God.” We are to serve Him. When we first trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we enjoyed our initial access into grace. God intends for His children to continue accessing grace day by day throughout their lives. Every time we face any matter with dependence upon the Lord Jesus, we are drawing from the bottomless ocean of God’s grace. His grace becomes our resource for living.

Paul contrasts the “before and after” again in verse 5: “For when we were in the realm of the flesh” [some translations say “sinful nature” – the Greek word is sarx], “the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.” The Amplified Bible says, “When we were living in the flesh [trapped by sin], the sinful passions, which were awakened by [that which] the Law [identifies as sin], were at work in our body to bear fruit for death [since the willingness to sin led to death and separation from God].” Before Christ, our lives were dominated by our sinful nature, and our sinful desires, instead of bearing fruit for God, brought us death. But with Christ, our life need no longer be controlled by the flesh.

Paul says that our sinful passions were “aroused by the law.” As he said in Romans 5:20, the law had the ironic result of increasing our desire to sin. Before Paul develops that thought more, he makes this conclusion in verse 6: “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.” The law once bound us, but we have been released from it. Instead of serving God according to the law, we serve in a new way, defined by the Holy Spirit. (Paul explains that in chapter 8.)

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful?” (v. 7). If the law causes our desire for sin to increase, is the law bad? Paul says, “Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” Romans 3:20 says, “…because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (NASB) Unfortunately, that is a dangerous bit of knowledge. We tend to think that if we know what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do we will comply.

The relationship between law and sin is worse than simply giving information. Paul is saying that the law, by defining sin, told his sinful nature how to sin more.  Our sinful nature wants to violate laws. If you give it a rule, it wants to break it. So the law, by prohibiting certain things, made people do them even more, because of our perverse nature. Is Paul really talking about himself, or is he just giving a general principle, writing in the first person? Some people are troubled by the idea that Paul struggled with sin throughout his Christian life. They would like to put all that struggle in Paul’s past, but Paul was human.

In the literary flow of Romans, Paul is talking about something that happens after we come to faith in Christ. In chapter 6 he said that we died to sin, but we still have to fight it. In chapter 7, he says that we died to the law, but we are to serve Christ in the way of the Spirit. He does not want to make it sound effortless or automatic. The struggle that began before we came to faith continues even after – and indeed that’s the experience of many Christians. “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” (v. 8-9). When was he alive apart from the law? When he was a baby, too young to understand. But when he learned the law, the sinful nature inside of him found a way to express itself — by rebelling. Sin sprang to life, and Paul sinned. He was condemned.

The law is not the problem — it’s just that it is so easily hijacked by our sinful desires. The law didn’t cause us to take a wrong turn — it just told us where we would end up if we took it, and the perversity inside us made us take the wrong turn. Sin deceived us and put us on the pathway to death. The law isn’t the culprit — it was an unwitting accomplice. So Paul concludes in verse 12 that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” The law is holy, but it can’t make us holy. The law is about performance. Those who live by the law are left to their own resources to work up a life that measures up to the perfect standards of God. Those who daily put their faith in the Lord Jesus for the issues of life access grace for godly living.

Paul says, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” (v. 14) How could this be the Christian Paul, who said he died to sin and is no longer its slave? In verse 15 he describes the struggle: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do.” The Message puts it this way: “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.” Paul wants to do good, but he ends up doing bad, and he struggles to know why. He has a converted mind that wants to do the will of God, but his flesh wants to do bad. Why? Because there is another power at work within him, that is, in his flesh.

“And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good” (v. 16). The fact that he doesn’t like his own behavior is evidence that he likes the law. “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (v. 17). The Message says, “…if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes.” All the blame goes to sin, not to Paul, and that is why he can say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (See Romans 8:1). Whatever bad they do is blamed on the sin within them, not on the new person they are in Christ.

It is as if Paul explains the problem by splitting himself in two — there is the old person, in the sphere of sin, and there is the new person, alive in Christ. The new person is enslaved to Christ, but the sinful nature is still enslaved to sin. Being freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness is not automatic — it involves a struggle.  Galatians 5:17 describes the same struggle: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (v. 18). Paul qualifies his statement by saying that he’s talking about the flesh, the sinful nature, not his new nature in Christ. All the good in Paul’s life comes from Christ living in him, rather than originating in himself. The good comes from the new nature, the bad comes from the old. “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” (v. 18-19). He wants to do good, but he sometimes sins. The sin within him makes him do things he wouldn’t otherwise do.

Paul summarizes this issue in Romans 7:21-23 when he says, “So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members.” (Amplified) This is the nature of the struggle. Although he wants to do good, the evil within him sometimes causes him to do things that he hates. So he groans, as he says in Romans 8:23, waiting for the redemption of his body, the resurrection, and the ultimate victory over his sinful nature.

Paul describes in the Book of Romans a deep frustration—one with which all Christians can identify. The agony comes from realizing that our sinful flesh refuses to respond to the requirements of God’s Law. Those things which we despise, we find ourselves doing. No matter how much we may wish to serve God in our minds, we find ourselves sinning in our bodies. As Paul describes his frustration in Romans 7, with his mind he desires to serve God. He agrees with the Law of God and rejoices in it. He wants to do what is right, but his body will not respond. He watches, almost as a third party, as sin sends a signal to his body, and as his body responds, “What would you like to do?” Paul finds, as we do, that our fleshly body refuses to obey God. Instead, we tend to do that which we desire, rather than that which delights God.

As long as we continue under the law as a covenant, and seek to be justified solely by our own obedience, we continue to be the slave of sin in some form. Paul makes a devastating self-assessment in verse 8: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.” (NLT) Paul is not saying that the believer who sins moves from being a Christian to being a non-Christian. More likely, he is saying that, in the moment of failure, sin got the upper hand. Remember Paul’s warning in Romans 6:12: “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.” (NLT) He tells us to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies so that we obey its lusts. In other words, we should not sell ourselves to sin.

Paul concludes, “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.” (NIV)

Old Town

I follow a blog called  City Jackdaw that features the poetry of Andrew James Murray; well, Andy. I have always been impressed by Andy’s work, but a recent poem he wrote, called “Old Town,” is truly remarkable. It is the type of piece that transports you elsewhere; that makes you forget you’re reading.

Please enjoy Andy’s poem.

As is their wont,
the ancestors speak of nothing,

just leave their handprints
on rock, drying in shadow.

In sterile dust
we kick
careless trails,

tracks opening up
in animal minds.

In towns
we lay our markers down,

watering holes
within arid charms.

The rats have our number,
wait us out,

sandstorms filling our lungs
like egg timers.

On the porch
she reads Capote.
Turns her face to the south.

Her bookmark is an old photograph
of an old man; a girl; a dog:
‘Mary and her grandfather Jasper, around 1900.’
He: sat, stern and saturnine, wearing the dust.
She: stood, hand lightly on his shoulder,
glaring at the camera,
facing down posterity:
Not yet. Not yet.

The dog is unnamed.
The birdcage in the window, empty.
In the book there are voices on the wind.
Here, just the parched whisper
of turned vellum.

A Classic Book on Healing Revisited

In 1924, F.F. Bosworth published an incredible book called Christ the Healer. I bought a copy in 1980 only to have it ruined by water damage while in storage. Admittedly, I had not read the book cover-to-cover, and had long forgotten the truths it contained. As many of you know, I struggle with significant pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis, spinal stenosis, and a collapse of disc space in my lumbar spine. The pain has been so debilitating that I am currently receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. I have a long history of substance abuse, which began when I was 18. As you probably won’t find surprising, extreme physical pain has been a trigger for me, leading to numerous relapses on narcotic painkillers from 2008 to as recent as August of last year. I have come to the revelation that it is time for a different approach to my healing.

A few months ago I was looking at books at our local Christian book store, Bible Depot, in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. I gravitated to the “healing” section. (No surprise there!) There are many good books on healing, but my eyes rested on Christ the Healer. I was immediately transported back to when I first read the tome. To date, there are over 500,000 copies of Christ the Healter in print. Indeed, it has been in continual print for 76 years. It speaks of God’s compassion and longing to heal all who are sick. Bosworth’s passion was to communicate transforming truth about God’s will regarding healing. Bosworth was a dedicated evangelist. To him, saving souls was paramount, but healing took a close second.

Bosworth said in his preface to the 1924 edition, “…little did [I] dream that the truths presented were to bless such vast numbers in so many parts of the world. The results, down through the years, have been a demonstration of the truth of the inspired declaration that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” (See Ephesians 3:20) Bosworth indicated that by the simple presentation of enough of the written Word of God to the minds and hearts of the incurably afflicted they can be brought to the same state of certainty and assurance concerning the healing of their body as to the healing of their souls.

First Things First

Before people can have a steadfast faith for the healing of their body, they must be rid of all uncertainty concerning God’s will in the matter. One of my misconceptions was that I deserved to suffer after all the evil and hurt and sin I had committed. Seeminly, I brought all this pain on myself. Appropriating faith cannot go beyond one’s own knowledge of the revealed will of God. (Here’s where I needed to get a grip!) Before attempting to exercise faith for healing, we need to know what the Scriptures plainly teach. We need to know that it is just as much God’s will to heal the body as it is to heal the soul. Without this realization, there is nothing on which to base our faith. What is it that makes steadfast faith possible? Actually, it starts with a renewing of our mind. (Romans 12:2) As Romans 10:17 puts it, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

The Word is the Seed

Jesus told us that the Word is the seed. It is the seed of the divine life. Until the person seeking healing is sure from God’s Word that it is God’s will to heal him, he is trying to reap a harvest where there is no seed planted. It would be impossible for a farmer to have faith for a harvest before he was sure the seed had been planted. Parenthetically, God will not reward the farmer with a bumper crop without the farmer having sowed what he intended to reap. God’s Word does not allow for a harvest without the planting of the seed – without His will being known and acted upon. Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) Another way to put it is freedom from sickness comes from knowing the truth. God does nothing without His Word. Psalm 107:20 says, “He sent His word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.”

For each sick person to know that it is God’s will to heal him, it is necessary for the “seed” to be planted in his mind and heart. It is not planted until it is known and received and trusted. No sinner can become a Christian before he knows that it is God’s will to save him. It is the Word of God, planted and watered and steadfastly trusted, that heals both soul and body. The seed must remain planted and be kept watered before it can produce its harvest. For someone to day, “I believe the Lord is able to heal me” before he knows from God’s Word that He is willing to heal him, is like a farmer saying, “I believe God is able to give me a harvest without any seed being planted and watered.” God can’t save the soul of a man before the man himself knows God’s will in the matter. Salvation is by faith – that is, by trusting the known will of God. Being healed is being saved in a physical sense.

Here’s something that must be grasped: Praying for healing with the faith-destroying words if it by Thy will is not planting the seed. It is destroying the seed. The prayer of faith that heals the sick requires following (not preceding) the planting of the seed. Look at the words from Matthew 8:17: “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses.” Eugene H. Peterson’s modern-day translation The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language puts it this way: “He cured the bodily ill.”

We need to remember that seed is powerless until it is planted. As Bosworth puts it, “Many, instead of saying, ‘Pray for me,’ should first say, ‘Teach me God’s Word, so that I can intellectually cooperate for my recovery.'” We must know what the benefits of Calvary are before we can appropriate them by faith. David specified, “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.” (Psalm 103:3)

Bosworth believes that our purpose to have our body healed should be as definite as our purpose to have our soul healed. We should not ignore any part of the Gospel. Our Substitute (Jesus) bore both our sins and our sicknesses that we might be delivered from them. Christ’s bearing of our sins and sicknesses is surely a valid reason for trusting Him now for deliverance from both. When, in prayer, we definitely commit to God the forgiveness of our sins; we are to believe, on the authority of His Word; that our prayer is heard. We are to do the same when praying for healing.

Between the time we definitely commit to God the healing of our body and the completion of our healing, we can, and should, learn one of the most valuable lessons of our Christian life. That lesson is to observe Hebrews 10:35-36: “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (NIV)

The Word of God cannot be health to either soul or body before it is heard, received, and attended to. God’s words are life only to those who “find” them. If you want to receive life and healing from God, take time to find the words of Scripture that promise these results. When God’s Word becomes health to all your flesh, your cancer will be gone, your goiter will be gone, your kidney disease will be gone, your drug addiction will be gone. The flesh of many believers today is unhealthy flesh because they have failed to find and attend to that part of God’d Word that produces healing. This is the divine method of receiving the blessings that God has provided for us. Many have failed to receive healing simply because they have not followed this method.

God says that when we do as we are told in the Scriptures, His Words are made health to all our flesh. It does not matter what particular kind of unhealthy flesh. God is not held back by facts. He is not beholden to a physician’s prognosis. He says, “health to all their flesh.” Whose flesh? Those who find and attend to the Word of God on the subject. This is exactly the same way that the Word of God becomes health to the soul. God tells us to not let his Word depart from our eyes. We are to keep His Word in the midst of our heart. Rather than having our focus be on our symptoms, we should let God’s Word be our focus. As the only way a seed can do its work is by being kept in the ground, so the only way that God’s imperishable seed can effectually work in us is by it being kept in the midst of our heart. This does not mean occasionally, but continuously. It has to be our only focus. The reason why many have failed to receive healing is because they have not done this.

God bless you in your journey for physical healing. It is the will of God.

References

Bosworth, F.F. (1924). Christ the Healer. Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Peterson, E. (2006). The Message //Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO” NavPress

Advent

Weekday mornings on Bald Eagle Street
I waited for the bus. On winter days, I’d hide
by the dryer vent at the side of our house,
cupping warmth in woolen gloves, as inside
mom washed socks and jeans and sheets.

Saturdays I’d hide inside, close my eyes,
lean back against the machine. My feet tucked
into an empty laundry basket, I huddled up
to the hum and heat, soothed by the beat
of its rocking cycle, safe in my make-shift cave.

In those moments the world was my own,
and small enough to see—the narrow walk
between our house and Aunt Cindy’s, a slice
of the street, a glimpse of backyard promise—
even though the swing set was covered in ice.

There were tunnels through the snow
back there, for me to escape or defend.
Long white ledges lined with snowballs,
ammo, gradually amassed, a fortress to stand
against armies, or brothers, or any other foe.

By David J. Bauman

David’s poems have appeared in San Pedro River Review, Contemporary American Voices, Blue Hour Magazine, and T(OUR), among other places. He has poems recently published or forthcoming in Yellow Chair Review, and Watershed: A Journal of the Susquehanna. He’s a winner of the University Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and editor of Word Fountain, the Literary Magazine of the Osterhout Free Library. He is a former co-worker of mine at the Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library and a good friend.

A Study in Romans Chapter 6

This is the first installment in a three-part Bible Study in Romans 6, 7, and 8.

In Romans Chapter 6, the Apostle Paul shows us that we must not continue in sin, but live in holiness. The main theme of Chapter 6 is surrender. Just because we are under grace as born-again Christians, we cannot continue to sin so that grace may abound. Paul showed us in Romans Chapter 5 that the existence of sin called out the grace of God in the form of forgiveness. Romans 5:20 says, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Chapter 5 teaches that Christ saved us while we were yet sinners.

In Romans chapter 6, Paul deals with a possible objection in the minds of some believers. If grace is so easy, why should we bother to change our ways? Whenever the Gospel is presented, this question comes up. If all our sins are so easily forgiven, why worry about sin?  Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid! Grace is no excuse to sin. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” This is the essence of dying and living with Christ. The Christian life begins with death to sin. How shall we who are dead to sin live therein any longer? The exact translation is of the Greek verb past tense, and should be Who died to sin. It is referred to as having occurred in the past. It is my opinion that we were dead to sin even before we were born. In other words, we need not live in sin. It is up to us to accept Christ as our Savior, and to walk in His resurrection.

Paul says in verse 2 that we died to sin. How can we live in it any longer? If we want to escape death, then we should also want to escape the cause of death – sin. But more importantly, when we believe in Christ, we become new people. In the language of Romans 5, we are no longer people of Adam, but now we are people of Jesus Christ. We are to live in Him. Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not. Paul explains this in verse 3: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” We are baptized not just in the name of Jesus (such as at the time of our water baptism), we are baptized into Him and united with Him.  When we are identified with Adam, we get the death that Adam brought. When we identify with Christ, we get the righteousness and life He brought. When He died, we died. When He was buried, we were buried. When He rose, we rose also. We were with Him on the cross because He represented all of us.

We should walk in the newness of life, having been united together in the likeness of the life of Jesus, crucified with Him, no longer slaves of sin, but freed from sin. How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Verse 4 says, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in new life.”

We are dead to sin, but alive unto God. Verse 5 says, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of His resurrection.” Verse 6 tells us that our old man was crucified with Him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us; so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Parenthetically, Verse 7 tells us that a dead man is no longer under the bondage of sin for he is dead. Having died with Christ on the cross, we may live with Him over whom death has no dominion.

Look at Verse 8: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” Alive to God, we should not let sin reign in our bodies. Rather, we should present our bodies as instruments of righteousness, for we are under grace. Verses 9 and 10 tell us that since Christ was raised from the dead, He is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. For the death He died, He died to once for all. The life He lives, He lives to God.

 Verse 11 tells us to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Verse 12 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.” Here the Apostle Paul is showing sin as a reigning king or a tyrant who has captured the soul’s passions, spirit faculties, and bodily members of man, dominating his life. Let not sin work or rule in your mortal body; give it no place or grounds for working in your being. Sin does not rule or ruin; rather, sin rules and ruins.

Verse 12 also says that we should not obey the “lusts” of sin.” This indicates sin to be a real entity ruling the life of man. Sin itself has lusts other that the lusts of man. The lusts of sin are in reality the lusts of Satan. His desire to be God-like. His jealousy. The lusts of man are his own creative powers, depraved and corrupt. James 1:13-14 in the Amplified Bible says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one. But every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions).” Verse 13 tells us to not present our bodies to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but to present ourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. Verse 14 says, “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.”

We become slaves to whom we obey. Verse 15 says, “What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Verse 16 says, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness?” Many Christians today have not learned these simple facts – that you cannot be a servant of sin and Satan and a servant of righteousness and Christ at the same time. If you commit sin, you are a servant of sin and Satan, and not a Christian. If you sin, Satan is your master and not Christ.

Verse 17 says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Verse 18 says, “Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “But thank God, though you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient with all your heart to the standard of teaching in which you were instructed, and to which you were committed. And having been set free from sin, you have become the servants of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in thought, purpose and action).”

Every man is the servant of the master to whose commands he yields himself; whether it be the sinful lusts of his heart or spiritual obedience implanted by being born again. Paul writes that he rejoiced in believers obeying the Gospel from the heart. He said believers are delivered into the Gospel in the same manner in which metal is poured into a mold. As the metal becomes a new object when melted and recast in another mold, so the believer has become a new creature. And there is a great difference in the liberty of mind and spirit that is literally opposite to the state of slavery. For prior to being born again, we were serving our master Satan, living in bondage to sin. The dominion of sin consists in willingly being slaves thereto, not in being harassed by sin as a hated power, struggling for victory. Those who now are the servants of God, once were the slaves of sin. Serving righteousness produces holiness. Serving sin produces death. Verse 23 reminds us that the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We are told in Romans 6:11 to reckon ourselves dead to sin. The word reckon means to count, consider, or think upon. Reckoning goes one step further than knowing. As Christians, we need to continually live the truth that sin no longer has dominion over us. It is no longer our master, but Christ is. We need to know the facts stated in Romans 6:1-10. Count them as true and act accordingly. When sin tempts us, we should act as though we are indeed dead to it. We should give no response to the temptation. Certainly, the more we ignore temptation, the stronger we become.

It is true that reckoning sin as being dead in our lives is the beginning of experiencing God’s power to make sin dead and Christ alive. When I count myself dead to worry, anger, losing my temper, demanding perfection, overeating, recreational drugs or misuse of prescription drugs, excessive drinking, breaking the law, smoking, gossiping, criticism of friends or family, flirting with a wrong relationship, stealing, little white lies, self-pity, and other sin, then I will choose not to let that sin be part of my life. What sin do you have that you want to reckon dead in your life? Do you have a habit or attitude you’d like to see changed? Name it. Tell God you know it’s wrong, you know that according to the Word of God sin has been made inoperative. It is powerless to control you anymore because of the cross. Consider or count it dead from today on. It has no power to rule your life. Trusting not on your feelings, but on faith that He will help you and make your new life in Him real.

Paul says to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies in Romans 6:12. In Verse 13 he says, “Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead…” “Do not yield” means do not go on presenting or offering yourself to sin. This passage hints that we can stop sinning, and calls upon us to do that.  When we sin, the responsibility is put on our doorstep. We must refuse to put ourselves in a position where we can fall to temptation. If you deal with lust, a wrong desire for the wrong person, don’t go to movies that have sex, nudity and approve of extramarital affairs. Don’t present your eyes to see that. If you deal with gossip, and find yourself talking about others, then don’t let yourself bring up other people’s names, don’t present your ears to hear, stop information before it gets to gossip. Don’t present your tongue to spread gossip to others. If you battle with dieting and are tempted to overeat, don’t bring certain foods into your house, avoid “all you can eat” buffets, don’t present your body to be tempted. If you’re trying to give up smoking, don’t buy cigarettes, don’t hide them in the bottom drawer just in case.

Present, offer, yield yourself to God. Start living in a way that shows to yourself and others your right standing with God. Be Christ-like in what you say, think and do. And as you used to yield yourself those people, places, or things that would cause you to stumble, now put yourself in places that will build you up, be around people that will encourage your faith. The best defense is a good offense. Protect yourself by NOT doing certain things.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he knew who he was in Christ. Somehow, that precious truth which he was trying to convey has escaped the church down through the ages. The fact is, the grace of God has been misunderstood. It has been watered down to nothing more than the forgiveness of sins. God’s grace is much more than that. It carries to us His ultimate love. In the first two and a half chapters of Romans, Paul proves that no matter who we are, no matter where we were born and raised, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is none righteous. No, not one. The only hope we have in dealing with the sinful flesh we live in as Christians is to keep believing in the Gospel. We know the just shall live by faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Let that last sentence sink in for a minute.

Romans 6:5 says, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of [Christ’s] death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”  The words planted together mean literally “to grow up together, to be formed together,” and speaks of intimate, vital union of Christ and the believer. Paul also says we are crucified with Christ. This is a past-tense verb, meaning it was already done for us at Calvary. We were crucified with Him, and we died with Him. Romans 6:7 says, “For he that is dead is freed from sin.” Romans 6:8 says, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him. The Greek word “freed” appears forty times in the New Testament. We are to reckon ourselves dead indeed to sin, but alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to no longer let sin reign in our mortal bodies.

Subtle allure, persistent urges, passionate desires. Sin entices us in many ways. A thought enters our mind that we dare not acknowledge: “If I give in, I can always be forgiven.” Sound familiar? Such thinking can become an excuse for immoral practices. It indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s grace in our lives. In Romans 6:1-7, Paul explains why the idea of “sinning so that grace may increase” is unthinkable for Christians. The gift of grace does not give us the freedom to sin. One way we can interpret Romans 6:1 is that God’s grace increased because sin increased in the world. But that is not a good excuse for anyone to continue in sin.

Our lives changed completely when we became Christians. We simply have to start living the truth that our relationship with sin died with Christ. We must no longer live as sinners. Does that mean we need to be perfect? God forbid! Rather, it means we need to repent (turn away from) our former way of living. We know that our former lives ended with Christ’s death on the cross. If we died with Christ, we shall also take part in His new life. Consider your old sinful nature to be dead. Instead, live for God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Do not allow sin to control your behavior. Do not obey the wrong desires of your body.  Do not use your body to do evil deeds. Instead, give yourself to God. You have been bought with a price. You have been brought from death to life. Sin shall not be your master. The law of Moses does not rule you. God’s grace has made you free from the bondage of sin.