A Gospel Life In the Arena

He stood five feet nine inches tall.  His youth was marked by poor health and debilitating asthma.  He described himself as “nervous and timid.”  His country made him their twenty-sixth President.  On April 23 in 1910, as President of the United States, he gave a thirty-seven page speech in Paris, France. However, it was his brief words on page seven that went viral. 

Theodore Roosevelt said:  “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…. if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Romans 7 is a call to enter the arena, to a gospel life, to dust, sweat, and blood...where spectators live in Disney World and participants “dare greatly” in the real world.

Romans 7.7-12 begins with another question, the third so far in Romans 6 and 7, all concerning life change:  “Is the law sin?”  Does the bad marriage to the law (Rom 7.1-6) mean the law is sin or bad in and of itself?  The Apostle Paul’s quick answer translated into Texan is “Hail no!”  His longer answer asserts the proper purpose of the law - “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.”  The law’s divine design is to reveal us to us like a mirror.  Therefore, the law is not sin, but it is extremely good at revealing ours.

Practically speaking, revealing our sin means two things. 

First, a comprehension component that makes sin understood (v.7): “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.”’  Second, an experiential component that makes sin felt (v.8): “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of mega-desires (literal translation of ‘covetousness’).”  Paul picked the tenth commandment (covetousness) because it is the root of all sin; it is why we break the other nine. 

Sin at its root is mega-desire or normal desires gone mega, god-like, or seeking to take God’s place as Lord and Savior.  For example, there is nothing wrong with the desire for love and acceptance…it is part of God’s design for being human.  However, when the desire for love and acceptance goes mega, it now produces controlling and co-dependent relationships, traps someone in an abusive relationship, and prevents genuine love and friendship. 

Paul calls us to enter the arena of real life where the law reveals reality to us – that we are not good people.  Why would we ever want to do that?   Paul’s answer is the story of his own personal breakdown before the law (v.9), and how breakdown is ultimately healing.  How is a personal breakdown healing?  When we die to our self, we can come alive in Another.  When we die to our performance, we can come alive in Another’s performance.  When we breakdown before the law. we can heal before the grace of God.  Grace always runs downhill.  Enter the arena.