Fighting Against Ourselves (Lesson 9, 2017 Q4)

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Fighting Against Ourselves (Lesson 9, 2017 Q4)

In the previous lesson commentary, we focused on some of the hermeneutical problems we face when attempting to make sense of the first section of Romans 7. This will come in handy when we explore next week’s lesson. This week, we are studying Romans 8, which is a response to the second part of chapter 7; thus, we will need to briefly look at that first.


Romans 7 introduces us to an identity crisis which every Christian has experienced to some degree:


For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)


In this scenario, who then am I really? Am I the person who wants to do the right thing, or the one who ends up doing the wrong thing?  Which one is the real me? To answer this, it helps for us to think through how our personhood develops.


As adults, we make decisions through an interplay of our internal urges and our intellect/conscience. For example, if we are really hungry, but don’t have any money, and yet happen to be in a store with plenty of food around, we generally don’t just take the food and eat it. This may be because we believe stealing is wrong, or because we don’t want to get in trouble with the law; in either case, our minds take control and overpower our physical urges. A toddler, on the other hand, would have no problem simply grabbing the food if hungry.


Our intellect and conscience take some time to naturally mature, and there is also an element of education involved. Our internal urges, however, are present even while we are still in the womb, and they begin to shape our character before we have any control over it. By the time we are old enough to have a sense of what life is all about, we already have a well-shaped character driven by self-centered impulses. Now, depending on genetics, environment, and education, some people’s characters will be more deficient than others’; however, there is a common deficiency that all of us share.


Because of this, it doesn’t really benefit us to try to determine who we really are in ourselves. We are the same self-centered creatures as everyone else, and God doesn’t instantly transform us into other-centered creatures at conversion. What God does offer us instead is acceptance:


There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)


Secondly, God comes to us through the Holy Spirit and begins to transform our characters over time, through the same processes that formed those characters to begin with.


Moreover, God commits Himself to this task. He pledges to stick with us all the way through with the only exception being if we ourselves decide we no longer want to follow Him:


Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)


Essentially, God has provided us, through Christ, with a safe, family-like environment containing all the necessary elements for us to grow into mature Christians. Therefore, we should ensure that those who come to Christ are not hindered from experiencing these blessings.


In the previous lesson, I briefly mentioned that there is a debate within Adventism over who the man in Romans 7 represents: the pre-conversion or the post-conversion Christian. I explained that, while the passage primarily refers to the pre-conversion Christian, there are times when even born-again Christians fall back into that experience.


I will go even further and argue that, within the Adventist Church, it is likely that quite a large number of our members are still in the Romans 7 experience. I think it is important for ministers and church workers to understand the needs of our local churches as they take up their work. There are several factors behind this state of things:


  • As in all churches, some of our members have not understood the gospel, and have therefore never been converted.


  • Due to the influence of Last Generation Theology, we have developed a culture of high expectations in our church. We have emphasized the fact that, unlike other Christians, we believe, not only in forgiveness of sin, but also in victory over sin. While a proper balance between forgiveness and victory is a hallmark of the true gospel, this over-emphasis on victory has created an environment where people feel pressured to put on a show. Our members cannot benefit from being part of a Christian community as they should, because they don’t feel safe to be open about where they really are in their Christian walk.


  • Compared to other Christians, Adventists have a lot more rules to worry about. We believe that if we love God, we must keep His commandments. This is good. However, Ellen White’s writings provide us with a much larger list of do’s and don’ts—rules for how to dress, what to eat, how to spend our time, where to live, etc. If people don’t understand how to relate to all these “rules” in a healthy way, they can become overwhelmed.


  • As a church, we have, decades ago, transitioned from a discipleship model of evangelism to an information-transfer model. We share the truth with people, call them to a decision, and then expect them to fend for themselves. God, however, intended that discipleship would be an integral part of every Christian’s life.


As these elements come together in our local churches, they create something of a “perfect storm” keeping our members from a healthy Christian experience. Because of this, some leave the church, others fall into a mostly cultural form of Adventism, and still others turn to an evangelical, liberal, or fanatical theology in order to cope. Essentially, it is quite possible that many of the problems we are experiencing in our local churches are actually symptoms of the lack of a healthy environment in which members can experience spiritual growth.


We need to bring the Romans 8 experience back to our local churches. We need to preach the gospel from our pulpits, and teach it to our members—both in small groups and one-on-one. We need to create an environment of acceptance and a lack of condemnation, recognizing that we are all fallen and saved through God’s grace. We need to reinstate discipleship programs where new converts can benefit from the experience of mature Christians. New converts grow into victorious Christians when fellow church members take the time to mentor them in the Christian walk.


I believe that Adventism has the most balanced and biblical understanding of the gospel. However, we have allowed outside sources to influence both our theology and our church practice. It’s time for us to return to a canonical theology and to a New Testament ecclesiology.

Click here to read all weekly lesson commentaries for Q4 2017

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About the author


Mike Manea has a masters of divinity degree from Andrews and La Sierra, an undergraduate degree in Biology and is currently working towards a doctorate from Andrews. He is the pastor of three churches under the Gulf States Conference and is the co-founder of Intelligent Adventist.