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Thursday, June 20, 2013 | Comments (13)

by John MacArthur

Although heaven will be our first encounter with true, complete perfection, the Lord is already at work in the lives of His people preparing us for that perfection.

God begins the process of perfecting us from the moment we are converted from unbelief to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit regenerates us. He gives us new hearts with new, holy desires (Ezekiel 36:26). He transforms our stubborn wills. He opens our hearts to embrace the truth rather than reject it, to believe rather than doubt. He gives us a hunger for righteousness and a desire for Him. Thus the new birth transforms the inner person. From that point, everything that occurs in our lives—good or bad—God uses to make us like Christ (Romans 8:28–30).

In terms of our moral and legal status, believers are judged perfect immediately—not on the basis of who we are or what we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. We are forgiven of all our sin. We are clothed with a perfect righteousness (Isaiah 61:10; Romans 4:5), which instantly gives us a standing before God without any fear of condemnation (Romans 5:1; 8:1). And when Paul writes that God has “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6), he is again speaking of this position of favor with God that we have been granted by grace alone.

We are not literally, physically seated with Christ in the heavenlies, of course. We are not mystically present there through some kind of spiritual telepathy. But legally, in the eternal court of God, we have been granted full rights to heaven. That is the high legal standing we enjoy even now, on this side of heaven.

But God does not stop there. Having judicially declared us righteous (Scripture calls that justification), God never stops conforming us to the image of His Son (that is sanctification). Although our legal standing is already perfect, God is also making us perfect. Heaven is a place of perfect holiness, and we would not be fit to live there unless we too could be made holy. In a sense, then, the blessing of justification is God’s guarantee that He will ultimately conform us to the image of His Son. “Those whom He justified He also glorified” (Romans 8:30).

The seeds of Christlikeness are planted at the moment of conversion. Peter says that believers have been granted “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). If you are a Christian, the life of God dwells in your soul, and with it all that you need for heaven. You have already passed from death to life (John 5:24). You are a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). Whereas you were once enslaved to sin, you have now become a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:18). Instead of receiving the wages of sin—death—you have received God’s gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). And eternal life means abundant life (John 10:10). That is what Paul means when he writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Now let’s be honest. Even the most committed Christian doesn’t always live as if “the new has come.” We don’t always feel like a “new creation.” Usually we are more keenly aware of the sin that oozes from within us than we are of the rivers of living water Christ spoke of. Although we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit, [we] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). And we groan this way all our lives. Remember, it was a mature apostle, not a fragile new Christian, who cried out in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Here’s the problem: Like Lazarus, we came forth from the grave still bound in grave clothes. We are incarcerated in human flesh. Flesh in the biblical sense refers not just to the physical body, but to the sinful thoughts and habits that remain with us until our bodies are finally glorified. When Paul speaks of flesh and spirit he is not contrasting the material body with the immaterial spirit—setting up a kind of dualism, the way gnostic and New Age doctrines do. He uses the word flesh to speak of a tendency to sin—a sin principle that remains even in the redeemed person.

Paul clearly spells out the problem from his own experience in Romans 7.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (Romans 7:15­–21)

As believers we are new creatures—reborn souls—vested with everything necessary for life and godliness, but we cannot fully appreciate the newness of our position in Christ because of the persistent presence of sin.

Like Paul, we “delight in the law of God, in [our] inner being” (Romans 7:22). Only the principle of eternal life in us can explain such love for the law of God. But at the same time, the flesh constricts and fetters us like tightly bound grave clothes. This flesh principle wars against the principle of new life in Christ. So we feel like captives to the law of sin in our own members (Romans 7:23).

How can this be? After all, Paul earlier wrote in this very epistle that our bondage to sin is broken. We are supposed to “have been set free from sin” (Romans 6:22). How is it that just one scant chapter later, he says we are “captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:23)?

The answer is, being a captive is not quite the same thing as being enslaved. As unredeemed sinners, we were full-time slaves of sin—willing servants, in fact. But as Christians who are not yet glorified, we are captives, unwilling prisoners of an already defeated enemy. Although sin can buffet and abuse us, it does not own us, and it cannot ultimately destroy us. Sin’s authority and dominion are broken. It “lies close at hand” in the believer’s life (Romans 7:21), but it is no longer our master. Our real allegiance is now to the principle of righteousness (Romans 7:22). It is in this sense that “the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even though we still fall into old patterns of sinful thinking and behavior, those things no longer define who we are. Sin is now an anomaly and an intruder, not the sum and substance of our character.

God is changing us from the inside out. He has planted the incorruptible seed of eternal life deep in the believer’s soul. We have new desires to please God. We have new hearts and a whole new love for God. And all those are factors that contribute to our ultimate growth in grace.

Although sin has crippled our souls and marred our spirits—scarred our thoughts, will, and emotions—we who know Christ have already had a taste of redemption. As we set our hearts on heaven and mortify the remaining sin in our members, we can experience the transforming power of Christ’s glory on a daily basis. And we long for that day when we will be completely redeemed. We yearn to reach that place where the seed of perfection that has been planted within us will bloom into fullness and we will be completely redeemed, finally made perfect (Hebrews 12:23). That is exactly what heaven is all about.

(Adapted from The Glory of Heaven; all Scripture references are taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.)


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#1  Posted by Steve Hardy  |  Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 10:22 AM

Thank you, John, so much for this powerful and encouraging description of so many of the things God has done for us as believers, the tension we live in while still on Earth, and the final resolution. Your paragraph dealing with the difference between a slave and a captive to sin was incredibly helpful; I've wrestled with trying to understand what Paul was addressing in Romans 6 and Romans 7, and your explanation of it gave me one of those wonderful moments of clarity when the Word opens up.

Thanks for all that you and GTY provide for us; your faithfulness and stewardship are terrific examples.


#2  Posted by Rose Michels  |  Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 12:39 PM

The Christian's life ... encapsulated perfectly. I'm praying, studying and working so hard so that what comes out of my mouth glorifies God ... always pointing to Jesus Christ and the cross.

My way of saying 'thank you' for putting into words God's plan for the elect!

#3  Posted by Scott Mcelhattan  |  Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 1:20 PM

thanks for your blessed teachings. I read the Glory of Heaven!! loved it . cant wait to worship our savior in His presence and in Heaven!!!

#4  Posted by Charles Williamson  |  Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 4:20 PM

Thank you for sharing John "Changed from the Inside Out"

#5  Posted by Neda Hall  |  Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 4:37 PM

Thank you for that timely message as I am struggling a bit when I see nothing happening (it doesn't mean that nothing is happening). Thank you for your thorough and encouraging teaching of His Word for so many years, as I listened from Ohio for over 20 years. I was also a member of your church for 2 years and got to experience you and all of the wonderful pastors/teachers, first hand at GCC. I am now in Ecuador, ready and eager to serve as I learn the language.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

#6  Posted by Brian Pace  |  Friday, June 21, 2013 at 12:19 AM

"Remember, it was a mature apostle, not a fragile new Christian, who cried out in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Sorry, John, but I cannot believe that.

The last half of Romans 7 is often explained as the Christians struggle with sin as he lives his life, as you mention above.

John, this is not the Christian struggle. Romans 7 is Pauls' explaination of why the Mosaic Law cannot save a person from wrong living. And how Jesus does save a person from wrong living. Look at Romans 7:8:

"But sin, taking opportunity through the Law, produced in me strong wrong desires of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead." If the law could do that, then how could it save you from wrong living? Paul says it can't, that is why you need Jesus.

"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:24-25a. Call on Jesus and experience: "Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free." John 8:34&36

#7  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Friday, June 21, 2013 at 8:10 AM

Thank you for this glimpse of heaven and what is going on with us down here.

God bless you!

#8  Posted by Chris Leduc  |  Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 9:52 AM


Can you clarify what exactly you mean when you say:

"Call on Jesus and experience: "Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free." John 8:34&36"

I think you mean the following, but please correct me if I am wrong:

A non-believer commits sin.

Anyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.

A Christian has been set free by the Son.

If you have been set free by the Son, then you are no longer a slave to sin.

Therefore, if you are Christian, you will not sin.

Is this what you are trying to say?

#9  Posted by Marc Gasway  |  Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 10:55 AM

Wow, this is just what I needed. It explains those areas in my walk where I struggle, and clearly points out to me that the work is already completed for us through Christ. Sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough ... but it's not what "I" do, it's what the Lord has ALREADY done for us. Thank you John!

#10  Posted by Brian Pace  |  Monday, June 24, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Chris Leduc,

That is indeed what I am saying. That should be the Christian experience. I once was an acoholic. When I became a Christian, I could finally quit drinking. But I noticed another thing. I quit thinking about swear words, and quit swearing. I quit having a desire to be a con man, so lying went away. And my fits of anger dissapeared. Pornography became unacceptable and gross. All these were replaced with a strong desire to read the Bible and be in fellowship with other believers. I experienced : "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:24-25a. Thank God I found a church that accepted Romans 7 for what it says.

But your conclusion need clarifying. Because I am no longer a slave to sin, as you say, "We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin." Romans 6:6, that does not necessarly mean I would NEVER sin. It menas I SHOULD NEVER SIN. "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Hebrews 12:6. Why would I be disciplined if I NEVER did wrong? Just because I am not a slave of sin does not mean I would never choose to sin, so sometimes I need a little discipline, as we all do. As I experience discipline, I find I choose to sin less and less, but, thank God, I am never a slave to sin any longer. But I find that the sins I have done since being saved do not fall into the catagory of going back to my old ways. See Psalm 85:8: "I will listen to what God will say; surely the LORD will declare peace to His people, His godly ones, ONLY do not let them go back to foolish ways." I find sometimes God asks me to do things that I strongly do not understand, or that maybe I am fearful of doing. Kinda like Jonah. Instead of taking it by faith, I stop. Jonah was not the only one, remember Moses spent a chapter and a half saying no to returning to Egypt to free the Isreals, until, the Bible says, Gods anger was kindled. And remember Deborahs General also. AND, when Kind David did go back to the 'foolish ways', the prophet said unto him: "Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die." "Great occasion" was because he did go back, as opposed to the stumbling along as we all do, not getting done what we know we should.

One other thing you should know. After I got saved, I experience sometimes great temptation to go back to drinking. After getting all of the Holy Spirit later, after I got saved, even the temptation to go back to drinking went away. The Bible says it is by the Holy Spirit we "put to death the deeds of the body" Romans 8:13, so it seems to me that complete victory came at that point, so ask God for all the Holy Spirit you can get, if you are having trouble.

#11  Posted by Chris Leduc  |  Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 8:11 PM


Thanks for the response. While I agree with most of your post, and I say Amen! and Amen! to most of it as is so similar to my own personal testimony, I ultimately must say that your understanding of Romans 7 is not correct. It is, as Dr MacArthur explains, Paul's description of the Christian's life.

The first of my concerns is that it appears that your definition of "sin" appears to be way too narrow. If we were to look just at the greatest commandment (Per Jesus) "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matthew 22:36, we should quickly see a problem. The truth is that almost from the moment you open your eyes, to the moment you close them, you live almost exclusively in sin - we all do. None of us are able to love God, the way He deserves, the way He demands, with 100% of our heart, soul and mind at all times, or even most of the time. And that realization has caused Christians throughout the last 2000 years to cry out "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" be ever so grateful that our salvation (in all senses) is based solely upon our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you narrowly define sin as just the things you used to do that are obvious violations of the law, then it appears we can be doing pretty well a lot of the time. But when truly considering the greatest commandment, and then the second greatest, we all fall short or miss the mark much of the time.

The second issue I have comes from a plain reading of the text. Paul switches to what would be considered present tense in the latter half of the chapter as opposed to the first half. He is talking about currently reality. Then he confirms this with the final verse of the chapter.

The next issue is that your interpretation disagrees with not only how the text is interpreted throughout this Church is this county, and throughout the Church global, but it also contradicts how the Church has historically interpreted the text for the past 2000 years. Anytime our interpretation differs in a manner like that, we have to be very cautious and concerned.

So while I wholeheartedly agree with you regarding the truly amazing reality of what it is to be a new creation in Christ, I think you are also missing a lot of what it means to be a new creation in Christ ie the growing realization that we are far more sinful and un Christ-like than we ever had imagined! And that should cause you, as it has me, to echo Paul in saying "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."

#12  Posted by Jeremy K  |  Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 9:50 PM

The answer is, being a captive is not quite the same thing as being enslaved

Just that one line alone that makes a clear distinction got the whole thing clear in my mind once and for all. Of course like Paul, and others in the faith its an ongoing struggle, this sin deal, and in the midst of the daily struggle, these matters can become unclear. This may not be entirely biblical but I think its great to have John as one of the 'Generals' out there passing on the commands and hope to life's battle field and helping to make the canon crystal clear from the true source, the almighty God.

#13  Posted by Brian Pace  |  Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 1:13 AM

Chris Leduc,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I will try to give you my views as well as I can.

First of all, your use of the two greatest commandments would make us all sinners most of the time, as you mention. But I believe that I love Jesus as he leads me to, not being under the Law. I am under relationship with Him, and he gives me the love for Himself as He decides for the time. Luke 7:47: " "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." This is where we all start; when she got saved, above, forgiven much meant loving Jesus much. I am sure that she grew in the Lord, and even began to love him more all the time. And to those who did not sin so much, but still saw their need for Jesus, becoming saved, may start out by loving not so much, but they also, would grow in their love for Jesus. They are not sinning, to me, as they grow in love. It appears to me you would having them living in sin as they grew, which I could not agree with, unless they began to refuse to grow further in love, than I could agree with you. That is one example of how and why we are not under the Law.

Now about Paul switching to the present tense. When I discuss Romans 7 with theology/pastor types who do not agree with me, they do not bring this up. The reason why is that in all literature, authors often switch into the present tense to make a point clearer. And doctrine could not therefore be determined through literature style.

The last issue you mention is that my belief differs with church history. It seems you find my belief different from anyone. But the pentecostals in this country all believe the way I do. And historically, John Wesley also taught this. Being one of the greatest revivalists/pastors in all of history, I do believe history clearly finds a place for my beliefs. But there are others, as well as him. In fact, if you research this much in commentarys, as Romans 7 is introduced, statements like "these verses are often hotly debated" are abundant. At that time they go on to state the two different beliefs talked about, as we are doing here. This clearly tells me that many others have had this discussion.

I must go now, but I will post more later, wanting to mention about what the theology/pastors types that I talk to about this bring up to me when they want to challenge me, I think you may want to read some of this also. Thanks again for your thoughtful post.