When I talk about holy living, I often hear saints say, “You talk an awful lot about victory over sin but what about the flesh that we are constantly fighting?” I want to be careful not to minimize the battle we face.
On the one hand, we live in a world full of its pleasures and temptations. It seems everywhere that you turn you can find temptation. Christians could approach these facts with a nonchalant attitude. They can approach it with a defeatist attitude. But I believe God wants us through obedience and the Spirit’s guidance to rise above it by his power.
Paul was no stranger to the struggle with sin, our desires, and this world environment. In our last Holiness Matters post we talked about Romans 6 and being dead to sin. Paul used the examples of water baptism and Christ’s death and being a slave to righteousness. Now he will discuss in Romans 7 the real struggle with sin because of the law.
Fulfilling the Law (Romans 7:1-6)
Paul helps us look at our response to sin in a different way. Using another example, this time from the law of marriage, he highlights would being dead to sin means. The law is binding until death.
Marriage is, “until death do us part.” But if one of the spouses dies, the other is free to marry again. So also, the law binds us while we are living to follow its commands. And if we die to the law, we would be free from its commands.
When we violate the law, we are subject to its penalties. Many of the penalties in the Old Testament laws demanded death. That’s why the sacrificial system was put in place. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice to free us from the law through his own death.
The law penalizes us for sin. But Jesus was the first and only human being to be innocent of all sin. There was no reason for him to ever die. And yet, when he did, he unlocked eternal life for all of us.
Through the law’s commands, we learned what sin was. It forbade our desires and flesh from doing whatever we wanted. But those desires put us under the penalty of death as prescribed by the law.
Nothing we could have done for ourselves would have changed our predicament. The law would always condemn us because our passions and desires would never change. Only Jesus could make the difference for us. Through his sacrifice, we have also died to the law to live for him. We are subject now to the Spirit.
The Law and Sin (Romans 7:7-13)
We must be careful not to think ill of the law. Just because the law made us realize that we were in sin doesn’t mean the law is evil. In fact, the law is good because it showed us our sin. The commandments of the law bring sin alive in each of us.
The law did not cause sin. Sin was already there in our desires. But when the law exposed it through commandments, sin fight back with a vengeance. How many times did we want to do the very thing we were told not to do?
But the fight did not end between the commandment and our desires. The more the law shed the light on wrongful desires the more sin fought back. The good law wasn’t good for desire. They fought constantly with one another.
The Great Struggle (Romans 7:14-23)
Paul next produces some of the most confusing language in any of his letters. He describes this relationship between sin, the law, and our desires. For the same reason we are unsuccessful with New Year’s resolutions, Paul shows that knowing the law and believing it is good isn’t enough.
The law is good, but our desires don’t care about commands. Our flesh does what it once. And as long as it is gratified, it will never listen to the law. The outward law of the Old Testament put punishments on anyone who disobeyed it. It forced outward cooperation at best.
But it was no solution for the inner person. It didn’t solve desire and passion, gratification and satisfaction. Sin took its full advantage, giving the flesh exactly what it wanted. In a shoot out between the good law and are bad flesh, are bad flesh won every time. Who wouldn’t choose pleasure over discipline?
We mentally ascend that the law is good and its goals are good. But we always give in to our desires and pleasures. Left to our own devices, we lack the power on our own to choose the good thing. If we are going to do what is right, we need a power outside of ourselves. As Paul said earlier in Romans 6, sin rains in our mortal bodies as we seek our own desires and passions.
No matter what we do, we follow a law other than the one God gave to Moses. We follow our own law, the law that gets us joy and pleasure and satisfies our selfish desires. This war between the two laws seems insatiable and unstoppable.
Victory in Christ (Romans 7:24-25)
Now that Paul has visually explained this great battle between the flesh and the law of God that ignites sin in us, he sets us up for one of the greatest chapters in Romans, and maybe the Bible.
All this battle has done for us, anyone who lives by legalism, has just made us miserable. We can’t win. In our hearts, we know God’s law is good. But we lack the ability to follow it with our hands. It builds up a feeling of wretchedness and a loss of hope inside of us.
We need deliverance. Before we meet Christ and his Spirit who lives in us at the moment of salvation, we can fight this battle until we’re blue in the face and nothing will change. Jesus makes all the difference with his sacrifice.
It opens the door to the indwelling power of his Spirit. This is the game changer. At first, it seems like we have a split personality. Our allegiance is to Christ but our body continues to demand its own desires and passions.
The victory has been won by Christ. But for many Christians they find that they still struggle with their flesh. Desires from the past continue to challenge them. What kind of a victory are they living? I believe most of the power of old desires only exists in misunderstanding what it means to be a new creature in Christ.
But don’t let me get ahead of myself or Paul. In my next post, we will see how the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is now enacted in every believer. If we get a hold of the truth Paul releases in Romans 8, we know we have power over sin and any desire or temptation that comes our way.
Stay tuned for the next post that shows the power of Christ through his Spirit! Leave a comment and tell me what you think about how Paul describes the struggle before we meet Christ.