TruthTexts Article: Did God Really Say – Part Three, “But Thanks Be to God!” articles

Written and Posted by Timothy Smith

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“But Thanks Be To God!”

(Did God Really Say…? - Part Three)

Truth Texts

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 NIV)

You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands. As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me! (Psalm 119:4-8 NLT)

Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ... There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. (From Romans 7:24-25 and 8:1-2 RSV)

Hope, Power, and Victory

In the last segment, we looked in the mirror at all the ways we can mess up. We also established that we have no excuses before God. But I only hinted at the solution to our terrible problem. Leaving it there opens us to an endless cycle of wrong actions and lame excuses, leaving a trail of damaged people in a fallen and decaying world. And those who would try on their own power consistently to live right are great candidates for despair.

In the TruthText from Psalm 119, quoted above, the writer speaks of the frustrations of trying to live right. But we know more than he did, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His gift of the Spirit. The Romans 8 verses speak of the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” and that’s what we’ll explain in this segment. Through God’s Spirit, we have hope that we can live like Jesus. And we have the power to do that! The power is not our own, but it does flow from inside us.

A growing believer will see that the Spirit is producing results. And we will see those results more and more frequently as we grow in Christ. We will feel inside us the hints of God’s ultimate victory over our old nature. We will never be perfect while living on Earth, but we can obey more often and screw up less often! And the wonderful thing is that we can get a sense of what a life completely free of our old nature would feel like. The writers of the TruthTexts in this segment believed in and experienced that new life. They were honest about their setbacks and mistakes, and they gave thanks for the victories they experienced. And now their words are our guide. Here are some of the most encouraging TruthTexts, as we begin our journey to live more like Jesus.

The Spirit will Lead Us into New Ways of Thinking and Acting

As a young believer in the mid-1960s, I was given one of the first modern paraphrases of the Bible, by J. B. Phillips. His version of the first few verses of Romans 12 are a masterpiece, and that wording has stuck with me ever since. Here is Romans 12:1-2 in the Phillips paraphrase:

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within, that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands, and moves toward the goal of true maturity.

What a clear call to give Jesus our bodies (earthly needs and desires) and our minds, from which all our attitudes and actions flow! By so doing we avoid getting “squeezed” into the thoughts and attitudes of the world around us, and instead begin to think and act like Jesus. And the Spirit of God moves us to do the things He is calling us to do. In this way, we demonstrate to ourselves that “God’s plan is good,” and that the life as an obedient believer is filled with more blessings than we could ever imagine.

Romans 12 may give some the impression that God expects instant perfection. But God knows how weak we are, and how strong the influences within and around us can be. That is why when we are told to “present our bodies...” and our minds to Jesus, it is something that we do daily. As Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Phillips says it this way, “You must give up all rights to yourself...and keep close behind me.”  

When we decide to depend upon the Spirit’s power every day, we will seem different from those around us! They will no longer see someone who is joylessly, mindlessly, attempting to follow a pile of laws and regulations. They won’t see a faker who puts on an impressive show of being religious. Instead, they will see a transformed person, someone who goes through the normal activities of life filled with more joy and peace, whose heart is open, and whose love for others is obvious. And like the early disciples, the world will see that “we have been with Jesus.” (See Acts 4:12-13)

The Holy Spirit Will Be There To Catch Us When We Fall

Perhaps by now you are asking yourself,

But what if I fail?

What if I fall short?

What if I really blow it?

The Holy Spirit constantly points us to the mercy and grace that Jesus gives to us. And He knows that the life of a believer is a process of growth (“bearing fruit,” “growing up into Him”). We have already passed from death to life (See John 5:24), even as we live lives that are less than perfect, and subject to frequent breakdowns! God certainly knows our struggles and our failures. Notice the hidden frustration in the verses we quoted from the Old Testament at the beginning of this article, pointing out the impossibility of living God’s way through our own strength:

You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands. As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me! (Psalm 119:4-8 NLT)

But on to the only solution! The title of this article comes from the end of Romans 7, one of the more honest sections of the Bible in terms of extreme frustration after honest self-examination. Let’s take a look, using a modern paraphrase:

I know the law but still can’t keep it, and 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. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. (Romans 7:18-19, from The Message)

The news flash for us is clear: we keep messing up, no matter how hard we try. It’s almost as though we can’t live God’s way in our own strength! Actually, that’s exactly what Paul is admitting here. I can’t do this alone. In fact, I can’t do this at all without God’s power as my power source, and God’s Word as my guide and motivation.  

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. (Romans 7: 20-23, from The Message)  

But let’s not leave it there. Look where Paul takes us in the next few sentences. Paul outlines the only solution:

22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

(Romans 7:22 – 8:2, New Living Translation)

So we know that we frequently fail, and Paul shows us God’s only way out of that terrible situation. Now notice what the writer of the Book of Hebrews says in chapter 4, verses 12-16, quoted below. Through the Word of God, empowered in us by the Holy Spirit, we can reach out to Jesus Himself, depending on Him to forgive us and empower us to go back to a life of obedience and service with even greater joy than before:

12 What God has said isn’t only alive and active! It is sharper than any double-edged sword. His Word can cut through our spirits and souls and through our joints and marrow, until it discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts. 13 Nothing is hidden from God! He sees through everything, and we will have to tell him the truth. 14 We have a great High Priest, who has gone into heaven, and he is Jesus the Son of God. That is why we must hold on to what we have said about him. 15 Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! 16 So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help. (Contemporary English Version)

We learn from the TruthText in Hebrews that the Holy Spirit “discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts,” and “we have to tell Him the truth!” But “Jesus understands every weakness of ours,” and when we come to Him, “we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help!” This, too is part of “taking up our cross daily and following Him” (Luke 9:23). Let’s return to Paul in Romans 8 (Modern English Version):

1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.”

You should read all of Romans chapter 8 – try reading it once a day for a week and see how encouraged you will be! Later in the chapter, Paul zeroes in on our need and God’s great solution:

26 Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (MEV)

Jesus will never fire us from His family, and will never inform us that He’s giving up on us, because He has promised that He won’t. “I will never leave you or forsake you!” -- quoted in Hebrews 13:5. We see that great promise spelled out in Romans 8:38-39:

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)

However, (full disclosure) we can consciously turn away from Him -- but why would we? As we know more of Him, the more we experience His power, and blessings, and constant love for us! And we experience again the liberation of knowing that our sins are forgiven. We find that we have power for living His way, as we seek to follow Him more closely. And that is the most exhilarating experience that a human can have this side of Heaven!

“Grace Will Lead Us Home!”

The heading above quotes a phrase from the old hymn, “Amazing Grace.” And Grace is the undeserved mercy and love that we receive from God. That is the motivation behind all the good news we have read in this article.  As a way to conclude this review of very good news, I can’t think of a better summary than four whole paragraphs out of the first letter of the Apostle John. Since chapters and verses were added years later to help us find our way around the Bible, I’d guess that those four paragraphs were part of one continuous theme that John wanted to share with the new believers he had served. It’s more than I usually insert, but it’s very appropriate to the things we’ve discussed in “But Thanks Be to God!” Here is 1 John 1:5 to 2:6 from the NLT:

1:5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

2:1 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

3 And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

Take Action!

Be sure to look up the verses in this chapter in whatever translation of the Bible is the easiest for you to understand.* Read the whole section that each verse came from, and make sure that the words I have said about them are true. Once you are sure that I have given you accurate information, ask yourself the questions. Finally, ask God to show you what you should do next.

What was the most discouraging part of Romans 7:20-24 we read earlier?

Are you surprised at the depth of Paul’s honesty?

What does Paul present as the only solution to our problem?

(See Romans 7:25 to 8:2)

What does the Book of Hebrews present as the only solution to our problem?

(Hebrews 4:12-16, quoted above)

What does John present as the only solution to our problem?

(See 1 John 1:6 – 2:1)

Using the above three TruthTexts, write down God’s only solution, in your own words.  

Explain why it is such good news for you.

Copy it to a card and place it where you can see it every day.

Think of another believer that has admitted this same struggle to you.

What encouragement can you give that person,

now that you’ve studied these TruthTexts?

* I use many translations of the Bible in this article. Any of them would serve to support the points made in the chapter. All verses with no listed translations are my own paraphrase; please check with your own favorite Bible to be sure I got the right idea.

Please tell me what you’ve learned, and what I could add to strengthen this study!

– Timothy Smith,

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