Romans 7. (14-25)
The first six chapters of Romans sees Paul presenting the condition of mankind, and the opportunity to find a second chance through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He argues that we cannot serve two masters, and how we are either in God’s kingdom, serving Him, or we are not – there is no possibility of having a foot in both camps.
But then we get to chapter 7 !
In these verses, Paul reflects on the theory, and sees that his experience seems to present something quite different. He wants to do what is right, but somehow, he keeps making mistakes, doing the wrong thing. Yes how can this be ? If his old sinful nature is dead and gone, how can it still have such a strong hold over him ?
So Paul struggles … and has three options :
1. the theory is wrong
2. he has a split personality
3. someone else is making him do it
Paul seems to like options 2 and 3 !!
On the one hand he blames “sin living in me” for the wrong things he does, and then talks about these two sides – the spiritual and the physical, at war with one another. This is called “dualism” and was a common philosophy in Paul’s day …
But dualism doesn’t explain why, if the old sinful nature has been “crucified with Christ” (6. 6-7), that old sinful self keeps raising its head again !
Nor does the notion of “sin living in me” and making me sin give a satisfactory answer because it means we can blame “someone else” for our behaviour and never accept responsibility for it. That doesn’t seem to be either right or how God treats us.
So what’s the answer ?
Louise suggested an example might be when we have an addiction – a habit we can’t break out of, like alcoholism. We might be able to go to rehab and get straightened out, so that we are “dry” but for the rest of our lives we will always have the struggle to stay “dry”. One drop could send us back to where we were. That’s a really helpful way of looking at this.
It seems to me that there are three important truths we need to add to this :
1. There is forgiveness
If we know anything about the cross it is that we can find forgiveness there whenever we fall or make a mistake or deliberately sin.
2. There is a way out
Sin always starts with temptation … and that’s the place of resistance, the place where we can say “no”. Paul writes to the Corinthians that whenever we are tempted, God provides a way out – so we need to train ourselves to look for it.
Jesus set the example, didn’t he ? He was tempted, as we are, but without sin. He was able to recognise the temptation for what it was, and to see the way out.
3. There is help
Following an example is all very well, but we find it so hard – especially when the temptation is by its very nature something we want to do !
But Jesus promised something much better – not just an example to follow but a living model within. The Holy Spirit brings us the discernment and the strength to withstand temptation, just as Jesus did. This is Jesus’ gift to us.