Friday, November 20, 2009

Should Christians follow Paul's example and call ourselves sinners? - a discussion

The exchanges below follow those that took place in an earlier posting titlted "Teaching personal responsibility in church":


C wrote:

Hi Lip Kee, your interpretation of 1 Timothy 1:15 is that Paul was speaking of himself in the natural, in the flesh, NOT of himself in Christ, in the Spirit.

So it seems that there are two forms of speaking for believers, one in the flesh, the other in the Spirit. A kind of dualism bordering on split personality when one can speak in the flesh at ... Read moreone moment, and at another moment, speak in the Spirit.

Why cant we just accept PLAINLY what the text says, " Here is a TRUSTWORTHY saying that deserves ACCEPTANCE : Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I AM the WORST? Why force an unnatural meaning into the text?

Lip Kee replied:

Hi C, I believe it was Paul himself who spoke about the "dualism" or "split personality" in Romans 7. In particular verses 17 to 20, where he wrote, "But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find...Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

Seems to me Paul was having a serious case of "split personality", don't you think so?

Paul went on and exclaimed, "O wretched man that I am!", but praise God he did not stop there. To the question, "Who will deliver me from this body of death?", Paul's answer was, "I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:24-25).... Read more

In Rom 7, Paul was talking about himself in the natural, in the flesh. Then from Rom 8 onwards, Paul wrote about the life in the Spirit, in Christ: a wonderful life that begins with "no condemnation" (Rom 8:1), ends with "no seperation from the love of God" (Rom 8:38-39), and in between, the receiving the Spirit of Sonship by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father" (Rom 8:15); the assurance that "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31); the promise of "how shall God not with Jesus also freely give us all things" (Rom 8:32); and the proclaimation that "in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:37). What a gloriously victorious life in the Spirit, and what a stark contrast to defeated and helpless life in the fresh.

It seems to me the apostle Paul was the one who legitimise the "dualism" or "split personality" of a Christian's life. That being the case, I don't think my interpretation of 1 Tim 1:15 is "forced".

I hope I am making sense to you. Shalom. :-)

C wrote:

Hi Lip Kee, what you said make sense. However, in the context of Romans 7:14-25, Paul makes it CLEAR that he is STRUGGLING WITH SIN.

He elaborates in Galatians 5: 16-18, "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 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 do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law."

Having said that, that does not meant that Paul is speaking in the natural (flesh) in Romans 7 and speaking in the Spirit in Romans 8.

If we take your approach of reading the Bible, we will always have to guess whether Paul is speaking in the flesh or speaking in the Spirit in all the things he wrote. Thus, if a particular verse does not fit in to our theology, we can easily dismiss it or say that Paul is speaking in the flesh.

This is what you did as you interpret Paul as speaking in the flesh in 1 Tim 1:15 when the plain reading of the verse says that Paul says " I AM chief of the Sinners." He did not say or even infer that he is speaking in the natural ( flesh).

Lip Kee replied:

Based on my little knowledge and limited wisdom, I am convinced that in Rom 7 Paul is talking about life in the flesh, and in Rom 8 he is talking about life in the Spirit. I also feel comfortable with my interpretation that Paul is talking about himself in the flesh in 1 Tim 1:15.

I don't insist that others should accept my views on those passages of Scripture. If anyone were to find my sharing helpful, take it and use it to the praise of God. If not, just throw it away or ignore it. Afterall, I am no Bible scholar or theologian. :-)... Read more

Now, regarding the verse in James 4:7-8: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."

I read through the entire book of James a couple of times and in different versions this morning. I realised that the letter is meant to address a range of issues involving several different groups of people within "twelve tribes scattered among the nations". A portion of the letter was directed at the persecuted who were undergoing trials; a portion to those who apparently had anger management issues and were undisciplined in the way they spoke with one another; another portion to those who practiced favoritism in church; another portion to people who did not walk the talk and were lacking in good works; another portion to those who presumed to be teachers but were unwise in their speech and stirred up controversies; another portin to those who indulged in their pleasures; another to brothers who slandered one another; another those who boost in their future plans for profit; another to the rich oppressors, another to a group of apparently poor and long-suffering people; and another to those who were in trouble and sick.

In James 4:8, when James used the word "sinners", it is possible that he was addressing a certain group or a few groups of believers in the churches. At the same time, it is also not unthinkable that James might be addressing the unbelievers among the group(s) of people.

Even if we were to assume that there were no non-Christians/unbelievers among the churches in "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations", and that James used the term "sinners" to address the believers, I believe he meant it in the way of "you who committed sinful acts" (in reference to their deeds) rather than "you who are unforgiven and unrighteous" (in reference to their IDENTITY, their relationships with the Lord).

In any case, my personal view is that the two verses in 1 Tim 1:15 and James 4:8 do not firmly or in any way establish a case/ an example for us to follow in terms of how we should identify, address or describe ourselves and our fellow believers.

I find the ways the writers of the New Testament identify, address and describe believers are mostly (if not always) affirming, encouraging and assuring, and I intend to follow that pattern.

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