A Minority Party in My Body

(A Trinitarian, Christ-centered paraphrase of Romans 7.6-25a)

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NOTE: For Romans 5.20 – 7.6 , see the October issue of THE ADOPTED LIFE.

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(7.6) Now that Torah has fulfilled its function, we are free from it.  Now we are bound not to words on page but to new life in the Spirit.

(7) Does that mean Torah is bad?  Absolutely not!  Torah is what brought me face to face with MY OWN badness.  For example, Torah said “You will not salivate over other people’s stuff,” and that was the day I became aware of my own covetous drooling. (8) Not only that, but my sick soul responded by making me salivate even MORE.  Without rules, rule-breaking has no life. (9) I was alive without rules, once upon a time.  But when the rules came, the rule-breaker in me stirred to life (10) and destroyed me.  Because of the darkness inside me, the Torah code of life-enhancing boundaries only intensified my experience of deadness. (11) My darkness twisted the light of Torah into just more darkness and death.

(12) Torah is beautiful; its commands are true and just and good. (13) Am I saying that a good thing destroyed me?  Not at all!  It was the darkness within me that used good things to create more darkness.  All of this just exposes sin for what it really is.  Provoked by the commandment, the darkness intensifies, and all the shades of gray go straight to black.

(14) Torah addresses issues that spring from my innermost self, my mind, my spirit.  But the problem is that my outer self (my body) is firmly dominated by old sinful patterns. (15) I don’t understand my behavior sometimes.  I don’t do what I love to do; instead I do the things I hate. (16) When my behavior is out of control, it is true that external rules and restrictions can be a helpful part of the healing process. (17) But the fact is that when I sin, it is not my true self.  It is my false self, the fleshly echo of the person I used to be. (18) In my flesh is ingrained a lifetime of accumulated nasty habits.  I may want to behave in a healthier way, but I cannot simply wish my way out of the old ruts. I am stuck! (19) I want to behave in healthy ways but I don’t.  Instead, I behave in unhealthy ways, even though I don’t want to.

(20) My body (my outer self) does things my spirit (my inner self) does not want.  My behavior is being driven not by my true self, but by a kind of ‘muscle memory.’ My body is simply doing what I have spent a lifetime  conditioning it to do. (21) Whenever I want to do good, the evil inside me is always there to offer its ‘better ideas.’  (22) My mind votes for the Triune way of goodness, (23) my body votes for something else,  and my body seems to win every single election.  I’m stuck as a powerless minority party in my own body! (24) I am miserable!  I am stuck!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?!?

(25a) Who?  Jesus, that’s who.  Through him I shout Hallelujah!

~ John Stonecypher

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COMMENTARY FROM JOHN:

In this passage we see a classic image that both Paul and Jesus use a lot — the war between the inner and outer self.  The Pharisees were so careful to clean the outside of the cup while ignoring the inside, so Jesus told them that if they washed the inside, the outside would take care of itself.  This is plain to anyone who has ever washed dishes.  Paul most often speaks of this in terms of his spirit versus his flesh.  His spirit is his inside self, which he often equates with his mind [See Rom 7.23,25], and his flesh refers to his body, his actual behaviors performed by his muscles or ‘members.’

Both Jesus and Paul are dealing with the difficulties that arise from the way our behaviors become automatic after a certain number of repetitions.  When I was one year old, I had to think hard about how to walk.  But soon, all of that became automatic.  My brain and muscles know how to walk, and I don’t have to think about it consciously any more.  It’s like riding in a cart pulled by a horse who knows the way home.

This subconscious knowledge is what philosopher Michael Polanyi called ‘tacit knowledge.’  It’s the thought/behavior patterns that are so ingrained that they allow us to do more and more complex things.  For example, I have come to know my car so well that I can say that I can “feel the road” beneath me.  I am not thinking about how the car seat feels on my butt.  I am feeling the road THROUGH the car.  In a way, the car itself has become part of my body.

Polanyi’s philosophy is important in the theology of Thomas F. Torrance (In fact, Polanyi chose Torrance to be the executor of his intellectual estate).  The challenge of repentance is that we must repent of thoughts that have become subconscious or ‘tacit.’  Our ‘tacit knowledge’ of the gospel becomes part of us; it becomes the eyes through which we read the Bible.  Through our ‘tacit gospel,’ we feel the scriptures, just like how I can feel the road through my car seat.

Torrance taught me that my tacit gospel was crap, and that was why I couldn’t see a good God in the Bible.  My warped eyes had distorted the Bible and its God.  Our task today is to uncover and repent of tacit gospels that are not gospels at all.  And then to return to the scriptures with eyes shaped by the real good news.

These paraphrases are my own attempt to do just that.

3 comments so far

  1. Craig Kuhlman on

    John,

    I’ve commented on your work before, and this is no different. I especially appreciated the commentary you included. You have a mind and gift of discernment like few others, and especially for a time such as this.

    I feel privileged to have an October article sandwiched between two of yours in the midst of Tim’s and Jonathan’s.

    I’d enjoy having an ongoing personal dialogue from time to time if you’d care to write: craignank@msn.com…to another “9 to 5” guy 🙂

    Best regards my friend,
    Craig

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    Just to echo what Craig said, I am really finding your scripture paraphrases enormously helpful in my thinking about how to read the Bible in the light of who Jesus is and in my personal walk with Jesus. Thanks John!

  3. Michael J Pailthorpe on

    The avoidance of a tacit gospel and a trinitarian Christ-centred hermeneutic could almost be one the key points of Christ-centered, trinitarian theology. Surely, it is assumed key point!?


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