The Continuing Struggle
A daily devotion for September 19th
The Law and Sin
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[a] 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[b] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[c] a slave to the law of sin.
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. Romans 7:18-20
Paul says that as a Christian, redeemed by the grace of God, there is now something within him that wants to do good, that agrees with the Law (because the Law describes God's holy nature), that says that the Law is right. There is something within that says what the Law tells me to do is right, and I want to do it. But also, there is something else in me that rises up and says
No! Even though I determine not to do what is bad, I suddenly find myself in such circumstances that my determination melts away, my resolve is gone, and I end up doing what I had sworn I would not do.
So, what has gone wrong? Paul's explanation is,
It is no longer I who do it; it is sin living in me. Isn't that strange? There is a division within our humanity. There is the
I that wants to do what God wants, but there is also the sin which dwells in
me. Human beings are complicated creatures. We have within us a spirit, a soul, and a body. These are distinct. Paul is suggesting here that the redeemed spirit never wants to do what God has prohibited. It agrees with the Law that it is good. And yet there is an alien power, a force that he calls sin, a great beast that is lying still within us until touched by the commandment of the Law. Then it springs to life, and we do what we do not want to do.
This is what we all struggle with. The cry of the heart at that moment is:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) Right here you arrive at where the Lord Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Blessed is the man who comes to the end of himself. Blessed is the man who understands his own spiritual bankruptcy. Because this is the point — the only point — where God's help is given.
This is what we need to learn. If we think that we have got something in ourselves that we can work out our problems with, if we think that our wills are strong enough, that we can control evil in our lives by simply determining to do so, then we have not come to the end of ourselves yet. The Spirit of God simply folds his arms to wait and lets us go ahead and try it on that basis. And we fail, and fail miserably — until, at last, out of our failures, we cry,
O wretched man that I am! Sin has deceived us, and the Law, as our friend, has come in and exposed sin for what it is. When we see how wretched it makes us, then we are ready for the answer, which comes immediately in verse 25:
Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Who will deliver me from this body of death? The Lord Jesus has already done it. We are to respond to the feelings of wretchedness and failure, to which the Law has brought us because of sin in us, by reminding ourselves immediately of the facts that are true of us in Jesus Christ. We are no longer bound to our sinful flesh by the Law. We are married to Christ, Christ risen from the dead. We must no longer think,
I am a poor, struggling, bewildered disciple, left alone to wrestle against these powerful urges. We must now think,
I am a free son of God. I am dead to sin, and dead to the Law, because I am married to Christ. His power is mine, right at this moment. Though I may not feel a thing, I have the power to say,
No! and walk away and be free, in Jesus Christ.
Thank you, our Father, for the simple and clear teaching of this passage. Help me to understand that I am freed from the Law once it has done its work of bringing me to the knowledge of sin. I cannot control myself by that means or deliver myself from evil, but I can rest upon the mighty deliverer who will set me free.
Life Application: What is the purpose of the Law? What affect does our new identity as Christ's bride have on our desire to live pleasing to Him? Do we have the power to resolve the continuing conflict of spirit vs. soul and body? Are we surrendering our incompetence to His all-surpassing power?
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