Romans Lesson 81 - Blessed Are The Bankrupt
The Apostle Paul had so much to boast about. He was an Apostle; he planted numerous Churches; he received visions from God, and so on. But when we study Paul's letters, we are struck by his humility. How was he so humble? Because when he looked in the mirror he didn't see the Saint we all see . . . he saw the chief of sinners.
Blessed are the Bankrupt
One of my seminary students related in class the Associated Press story of Mark McGowan, a graduate student himself, at Goldsmiths College in London. It seems he was rather overwhelmed with his 24,000 dollars of student debt. And so he determined to raise the level of public pity for huge debts owed by the students of England. In an act of self-sacrifice and great determination Mark McGowan succeeded in pushing a peanut with his nose, along the pavement, all the way from the steps of his school to the front porch of the Prime Minister. He crawled on his hands and knees for 11 days. There was a picture along with the news article – you can see Mark McGowan with his nose all bandaged, face to the ground, giving that peanut one more push. It turned out, unfortunately, that the Prime Minister was not impressed and that Mark McGowan would still have to pay his school bills.
In yet another Associated Press release that I pulled from my newspaper this past week, a Buddhist priest, nicknamed, the marathon monk, finished an ancient running ritual in the remote Japanese mountains that took 7 years and covered a distance equivalent to a trip around the world. 7 years of systematic running, praying, fasting – sometimes for 9 days at a time without food, water or sleep. This particular Buddhist sect dates back to the 8th century and believes its grueling tradition to be the path to enlightenment. Any monk, and 46 others have survived it, who fails to complete the journey is duty bound to take their own life by either disembowelment or hanging.
This particular monk who recently finished his marathon found people lining the path, kneeling before him, to have him touch their heads, believing it would give them special spiritual blessings.
The stories are the same, but the fundamental principle is the same. Mankind believes that a great debt – whether spiritual or financial can be eliminated by great sacrifice.
The greater the debt, the greater the sacrifice you must make.
If you push a peanut with your nose for 7 miles, or run for 7 years, people will probably be impressed and might even wipe out your student loans or line up for you to touch them on the head.
But what about your greatest debt? What do you do about that lingering, daily sense that you are sinful and you owe God holiness and yet do not give it to Him and you disappoint Him over and over and over again?
The Apostle Paul, coming to that point in his letter to the Romans, reaches the end of his transparent autobiography of sinfulness and cries out, “Oh wretched man that I am!”
Not “was” but “am.” After 25 years of Christian service for Christ Paul says, “I am still doing things I hate and not doing things I love.
Oh wretched man that I man.
O wretched father that I had.
O wretched education that I had.
O financial help that I never had.
O wretched man that my professor is or my boss is.
O societal connections that I never enjoyed.
O wretched husband or wife or children that I have.
They are my problem.
It’s my cultures’ fault, my parent’s fault, my boss’s fault, my career choice’s fault, my children’s fault, my school’s fault . . . it’s somebody’s fault!
And they ought to pay!
That’s the conclusion of the unbeliever. He is a victim of someone else’s sin . . . he is certainly not a sinner . . . and somebody ought to pay up for the fact that he now doesn’t have what he wants out of life.
2 days ago the story broke of an Egyptian lawyer who sits as the dean of the law faculty at one of Egypt’s Universities. He’s planning to sue the world’s Jews for plundering Egypt thousands of years ago, as recorded in Exodus 12:35 and 36. When the Israelites were about to leave Egypt, God instructed them to plunder the Egyptians. Basically receiving compensation for 100’s of years of unpaid labor; this Egyptian lawyer is now asking if “plunder” has a statute of limitations. Never mind deprivation and brutality . . . no, the Jews got gold and silver and precious gems and fine clothing – basically the pay that had never been given for 400 years of forced labor – and the Egyptians turned over their material things gladly, knowing they had offended Israel’s God who had brought terror and death into the land – they were more than happy to be rid of the Jews. Now – Egypt doesn’t owe the Jew anything for those centuries, Israel owes Egypt!
World Magazine, September 27, 2003
O wretched people these Jews are to me.
The fascinating thing about this testimony in Romans chapter 7 and verse 24 is that it comes from the pen of a mature believer who has reached the truth.
And the truth is not, “O wretched people who live around me,” but, “O wretched man that I am.”
He goes on to say, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?”
Would you notice again, that Paul does not say, “What will set me free…” What three things do I need to do?
Do you need to start pushing peanuts to erase your spiritual debt? Will scraping your nose along 7 miles of pavement impress the Prime Minister of Heaven?
Should you begin a trip equaling the distance around the earth? Will that empower you to be a blessing to others? Will your fasting and deprivation and sleepless nights of self-effort bring you to the path of enlightenment?
The world would say, Yes!
You’ve gotta do something to get right with whatever god you believe in.
But the problem remains, both for those who don’t believe in Christ and His word, and those who do.
Inside the walls of the church, superstition and false teaching abounds as well when it comes to this battle within – this fight against the flesh and sin.
James Montgomery Boice provoked my thinking when he wrote that the average American Christian tries to win the struggle against sin in a couple of ways:
1) First, he wrote that many Christians pursue spiritual formulas.
They want a quick fix – some special secret. They are always on the lookout for some new book, some secret truth, some special prayer; 3 steps to spiritual victory; four keys to spiritual freedom are the kinds of titles and seminars that get their attention.
Maybe it’s a one liner like: “Let go and let God;” or, “Just let Jesus take control;” or some other expression of what we could call bumper sticker theology.
Surely the battle against sin can be solved if I simply know one more thing . . .learn one clever principle . . . take one more study . . . read one more book . . . I’ll get to the point where I know enough formulas to keep me from ever sinning again.
If you go back to into this paragraph and read statements such as verse 19, “For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” In other words, I know what I’m supposed to do and I know what I’m not supposed to do – but knowing is not enough!
The things I want to do, I don’t do and the things I don’t want to do I do.
Paul knew what he needed to know . . . but knowing is not the answer.
Think about it this way. How many great coaches do you know who are superstar athletes.
I’ve watched a little Wimbleton in recent years . . . it’s always struck me whenever they show the coach sitting on the side-lines. I wonder to myself, who is that guy? Some former pro – unknown, therefore probably not all that stellar in their own personal career, but here and now, coaching a superstar.
Why can’t they pick up the racket, with what they know, and beat the dickens out of everybody on the planet? Because knowing how, does not mean you can!
I can go out on that golf course with my 2 sons, who now are both taller than I am – they can crush the golf-ball – I stand over the ball I’ve teed up – and my life verse for golf comes back to me; the things I want to do I do not do, and the things I don’t want to do, I do. My ball takes a couple of lurching bounces and goes into the water. Who put that pond right there! My son gets up there and tees his ball up and what do I do . . . I say, “Remember to keep your head down . . . you’re standing too far away . . . keep your arm straight.” Mr. Waterlogged is now going to coach guys who can crush the ball – who graciously let me play with them, probably because I’m paying.
The truth is, knowing what to do does not necessarily mean you will do it.
More knowledge is not the answer.
Others pursue some new experience.
They believe that some new experience with Christ – more dramatic encounters with the Spirit of God – some moment when some light shines and breaks open some mystery that they will be liberated from sinful desires.
It might be speaking in tongues or a second blessing, or some special commitment, or an emotional moment of worship or a second work of grace – something that brings them into a state of perpetual victory and they never have to really battle sin again.
Adapted from James Montgomery Boice, Romans Volume 2 (Baker Book House), 1992, p. 765
They believe that a Christian can and should reach some sort of state of maturity through commitment or dedication or personal vow so that they will from then on live on the mountaintop!
By now then, the Apostle Paul would surely have arrived, right?
Look at his experiences as a believer. I’ve compiled a short list and it is a breathtaking resume:
- Personally arrested by the risen Lord along the Damascus road and he heard that voice you and I would love to hear audibly from heaven – he heard it! (Acts 9:4).
- Privately tutored by the Holy Spirit for three years (Galatians 1:12).
- Paul was given miraculous ability to heal and even those who touched his garments were at one point in his ministry healed of all their diseases (Acts 19:12)
- Paul even raised someone from the dead (Acts 20:10)
What an experience that would be – “Honey, how’d your day go at church?” Oh, fine, I went to a funeral today and decided to just raise the guy from the dead . . . everybody seems happy about it . . . I might even get a bonus.”
- Paul had been taken out of body into heaven for a personal tour – (2 Cor. 12:12).
- He had personal visions as Christ came to him with revelation (Acts 18).
- Paul was one of the Apostles (Galatians 1:1)
- He was the leading missionary and church planter and theologian and author and pastor of his generation!
And after 25 years of this incredible ministry and personal visits from Christ and private instruction from the Holy Spirit – you would think he knew the formula – you would think he had had the experience!
If there was something to know – he would have known it!
If there was something to experience – he would have experienced it!
By now Paul should be breathing the air of perpetual mountain top Christianity!
And yet Paul cried after knowing what he knew and experiencing what he experienced, after 25 incredible years filled commitment and dedication and worship and service, “O wretched man that I am.”
Someone says, “but Paul experienced something in chapter 7 verse 25 where he reaches this triumphant statement of victory – Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” You’re right – that is a great statement of victory – but if it signaled the end of the battle for Paul, why would he in the next breath, say in verse 25, “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
In other words, why did he continue to have a battle within between what he knew was right (the law of God) and what he did that was wrong (the law of the sin).
The truth remains, at least by taking this passage literally and at face value, there is no formula . . . there is no special experience that removes the maturing believer from the war within.
A third way I would add to this list of things, that Christians are doing to avoid the battle, is what I would call spiritual deflection.
Whatever problem your having with sin is the devil’s fault. It’s a demon’s doing. So you go and get freed from the demon of lust and the demon of pride and the demon gluttony and now you can even be freed from the demon of debt.
I turned on the television some time ago and watched a pastor tell his crowd of thousands and his television audience of millions to send him their credit card bills and he would pray over them and the people would be released from their demon of debt.
I was kinda hoping that one would work!
What about compulsive spending? What about discipline? What about financial planning? What about personal responsibility to creditors whose money you’ve used? None of that – this is a demon’s fault.
This view has a generation of believers under the impression that bad thoughts and bad deeds are not their fault and therefore not their responsibility – it’s a demon they need to exorcize – it’s the devil they need to bind.
Paul knew demonic activity. He sensed it in a young woman who followed them (Acts 16); he warned the believers about the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6). Paul was no novice . . . he knew full well what spiritual warfare was all about.
But there is no demon in Romans 7. There is no devil to cast out . . . there is no shifting of blame to an unseen world.
Paul says, in effect, “my primary problem is me.”
And you know what? The flesh is impossible to cast out!
Paul goes on to write in the last part of Romans 7:24, Who will set me free from the body of this death?
What does he mean?
During the days of Paul, Roman tyrants would chain dead bodies upon enemy captives following a battle and were made to carry them upon their backs.
Roy L. Laurin, Romans: Where Life Begins (Kregel Publications), 1988, p. 240
Certain types of criminals were executed by the Romans with special brutality. Sometimes if the man had committed a murder, he was bound hand to hand, face to face with the corpse of this victim and then thrown out into the heat of the Mediterranean sun, or hung on a cross and as the corpse decayed, it literally ate death into the living man who usually died totally insane.
John Phillips, Exploring Romans, (Moody Press), 1969, p. 119
Perhaps Paul had this kind of torture in his mind when he cried out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
However, I don’t believe Paul didn’t know the answer to his question, right?
“Who will set me free?” Paul asks.
The Greek verb rusetai (rusetai) – was used to refer to the act of a soldier who ran at his comrade’s cry to rescue him from the hands of the enemy.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan) 1976, p. 365
Paul is in enemy hands . . . and the enemy is his own flesh. Who will rescue him . . . who will deliver him?!
The deliverer is Jesus Christ.
The answer to ‘this body of death’ is His body of death.
He bore our shame – he groaned in death under the corpse of our flesh – He paid for it all and will one day entirely deliver us from it’s evil presence and passion.
Paul isn’t crying a prayer of defeat but of acknowledgement – he is both sinful and saved. He is in agony over his sinfulness and rejoicing in his Savior.
The Scottish theologian, Robert Haldane, once wrote that that men perceive themselves to be sinners in direct proportion as they have discovered the holiness of God and His law.
John MacArthur Jr., Romans, Volume 1 (Moody Press; Chicago Illinois) 1991, p. 392
This is the testimony of Paul.
The truth is, we’re not used to hearing or seeing someone demonstrate an attitude and spirit that Jesus Christ said would reveal true repentance and conversion.
Psalm 38:3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of
Your indignation; there is no health in my bones because
of my sin. 4. For my iniquities are gone over my head;
as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. 5. My
wounds grow foul and fester because of my folly. 6. I am
bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day
long. 7. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is
no soundness in my flesh. 8. I am benumbed and badly
crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart.
Let’s face it . . . this kind of prayer wouldn’t be best seller today.
“I groan because of the agitation of my heart!”
Brokenness isn’t part of the formula today . . . contriteness isn’t ‘
an experience to pursue.
Listen to what Jesus had to say that afternoon when he delivered his first sermon that was so shocking the text says when he finished, his audience was amazed, lit. ekplhssw (ekplesso) which means to be stunned! Literally, beside oneself.
His very first words were these, Matthew 6:3, “Blessed are the
poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In other words, the people who are getting into heaven are poor
What did that mean?
The key word Greek word for poor. In the days of Christ, there
were two kinds of poor people.
The word penhV (penes) referred to a poor person who worked hard at his job all day, got paid in the evening as they did every day, went home, used every bit of it for food and clothing and shelter and had nothing left over. If he got sick, he had nothing to fall back on. He knew nothing of savings or financial security. He lived one day at a time, not knowing if he’d have anything to eat the next day.
There was another kind of poor person referred to as a ptwcoV (ptochos). This person didn’t have a job to begin with. He had no way of purchasing food or clothing or shelter. He was the village beggar, totally dependent upon someone else for anything. He was absolutely destitute.
This is the word Christ used. Blessed are the poor in spirit – blessed are the poverty stricken who have absolutely nothing to begin with.
The person who gets into the kingdom of heaven is someone who understands they are spiritually bankrupt. And offers God nothing of themselves. There is no self-sufficiency, no egotism, no arrogance.
Blessed are the bankrupt – for they inherit the eternal treasure of the Kingdom of God.
The Apostle Paul is merely reflecting in Romans chapter 7 someone who is bankrupt, but eternally blessed.
Illustrated best, perhaps by the parable our Lord told of two men who came into the temple to pray (Luke 18). One was a proud, self-assured, spiritual correct Pharisee.
He’d just pushed a peanut 7 miles with his nose up to the porch of the temple . . . and he expected God to be impressed.
The other man was a tax-collector – the universal symbol of Jewish corruption and greed – a Jew who’d sold out his countryman to Rome for the right to tax his own people on Rome’s behalf and, by overtaxing them, be able to keep the extra for himself. These men were wealthy, but hated.
They both show up at the same time to pray! The Pharisee stood and prayed, “Lord, I thank You that I am not like other people; swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week, I tithe of all I get.” While he’s praying, the tax-collector standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating on his chest saying over and over again, “God be merciful to me, the sinner.”
Jesus then said, “I tell you, that Pharisee went home righteous in his own eyes . . . but the tax-collector went home justified in the eyes of God.”
When the Pharisee prayed, he was impressed with himself.
When the tax-collector prayed, he was impressed with God.
You want to know what I’ve discovered in Paul’s diary – here in Romans chapter 7 . . . I have discovered a man unimpressed with himself, yet totally impressed with God.
Poor in spirit . . . yet filled with the treasure of heaven.
You don’t have to walk 24,000 miles to find peace with God; you don’t have to sacrifice the skin on your nose to impress the Prime Minister of heaven . . . unless you happen to skin your nose by simply bowing and saying with humility and at the same time, great joy,
O wretched man that I am . . . thanks be to God!
Add a Comment