December 17, 2015

Self-effort fails doing what only God can do

Jeremiah 32:1–44, Romans 7:7–25, Proverbs 21:13–31, Romans 8:1–4

Before the Babylonians invaded the nation of Israel, God told Jeremiah to buy some property and put the deed in a safe place. This prophet did what he was told even though that property could be confiscated. He didn’t see this as a predictable loss, but as an illustration of God’s promise to eventually restore His people to their land.

“After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch (his secretary), I prayed to the Lord, saying: ‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:16–17)

Jeremiah was confident that when all seems lost, God’s promises still stand. Like Abraham who trusted the Lord for a son in his old age, and trusted Him with willingness to sacrifice that son, Jeremiah knew that God would somehow preserve his purchase. The point was not that he would return and enjoy his parcel of land, but that the entire nation would be restored to their home.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?  . . . . Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it. The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger. For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth. . . .” (Jeremiah 32:26–29)

Yet the grace of God prevails for He is true to His promises: “Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” (Jeremiah 32:37–41)

In trying to look at the big picture, this major theme appears: We are the sinners and God is our Savior. Try as they might, the Israelites could not stop their slide into sin. Eventually they stopped trying because they preferred sin over obedience. God sent them into enemy hands and they learned to hate their idolatry. However, they needed the saving power of God to conquer it.

This does not mean that they should sit down and give up. Sin must be battled, but the saving is the Lord’s doing. As Solomon wrote, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:31)

Paul said the same thing as he described his battle with sin: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 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.”

His flesh was prone to sin, just as my flesh is prone to sin. Yet the Spirit of God who lived in him hated that sin and taught him to also hate it. He said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

I know that struggle and that hatred. But with Paul, I also know the answer. He said, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21–25) Sin persists, but Christ is more persistent!

Though not included in today’s reading, there is more to Paul’s declaration of victory. He goes on to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1–4)

God gives victory over sin. This is not to say that I have no part in that: I must yield to Him, fight the devil’s lies, and resist sin, yet I cannot rely on my efforts. He alone saves from sin. If I could have done it without Him, Jesus would not have needed to die.

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