I am in the process of listening to a sermon by Kim Riddlebarger. The text is Romans 7:14-25
"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 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. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Paul writes of this struggle with sin as being very intense; speaking of evil almost as though it's a power or force that takes hold of him, making him prisoner - even though (in his heart) he loves the Law of God.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
There are a couple of different ways that this short passage can be interpreted:
I can truly and genuinely relate to Paul as I read this passage. I can relate in my own struggles - that Paul, an apostle, struggled with sin can be a great relief! When I want to do right - the harder I try, the more I seem to fail. There are things that are so tempting!
Or I can see it as a warning; if I am experiencing this sort of struggle, I need to move on to the "victorious life" that Paul will describe in chapter 8. To read it this way is frustrating. If even Paul struggles - how much more so I? If Paul, an apostle, has these "issues" - how hard am I going to have to work at being "good"?
How I interpret this passage will affect how I live my life. It will affect how I view justification, sanctification, my expectations of the Christian life and how I choose to live it. It will affect the preaching and teaching that I hear in my church, how I deal with my own conscience, and even how I pray.
How I look at these few verses has a very real impact on My life as a Christian.
Is Paul writing about his present experience?
Or is he writing about that period in his life before he because a Christian?
Or is he even describing somebody else?
If Paul - an apostle - is writing about his sin struggles as a Christian in such a way, than we can view these few verses as "normative" - the normal Christian life. Paul's battle to do what is right and to not do what is wrong is the very same struggle that I deal with every single day.
The struggle with sin is inevitable - it comes from being delivered from the dominian of sin into the dominion of Christ. We have been set free from sin and death, we are released from the condemnation of the law; we have buried and raised with Christ in baptism and risen in newness of life in Him. However, we still think and act like what we were in Adam...and we are living under the domination of this present evil age. We reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ. But it takes time for someone who has known only slavery to learn to live in freedom.
BUT: If Paul is describing his struggle with sin before his conversion, or even the struggle of a Jew who is struggling with the conviction of sin under the Law, then he is describing the struggle of an unbeliever or an immature/carnal Christian.
If Paul is describing the struggle of an unbeliever, somebody who has not yet been set free - then Paul is saying that those who struggle with sin is either 1) not yet a Christian or 2) somebody who is still in the process of "becoming free" - not living in the promise of Romans 8, but who needs to do so..
If you read these verses in this way, then you read what follows in Romans 8 as a call for a person stuggling with sin described in Romans 7 - to move on to the victory descrived in romans 8, jsut as Paul has supposedly done.
THE FORK IN THE ROAD
This passage in Romans 7 can be read as normative and descriptive of the normal struggle that every Christian must deal with as part of our sanctifiation process or...
Paul is describing an abnormal and defective condition, something that must be dealt with and fixed immediately.
If this struggle is part of the normal Christian life, then we must make room in our walk for this struggle with sin. The struggle with sin is NOT a sign that we have not been converted - it is a PROOF that we HAVE been converted.
If this stuggle is NOT part of the normal Christian life, then the struggle should occupy no place in a Christian's life. We must advance beyond the stuggle.
It is a big difference that will affect the way we understand the essence of the Christian life.
I'm listening to this sermon in segments - I'm only a third of the way through and it's something that I want to write about more...