The Struggle of Sin
The great philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.”
Think about that for a moment. It’s not just religion, but philosophy, your philosophy of life, must account for both the greatness and wretchedness of people.
It’s interesting today that many people have no problem condemning others to oblivion, and yet they recoil when we talk negatively about human nature. How can the Bible speak so poorly of people? That is discouraging. I don’t want to hear that.
We either acknowledge or live in denial of reality. We either acknowledge the propensity toward evil or we are conquered by it. If there is wretchedness we must fight against it.
“He who knows his enemy and himself will not be defeated easily.” Sun Tsu
This passage shows that we have an enemy and the enemy is inside of us, and we must fight it, but it also shows us God has provided us with all that we need.
- The Enemy
An enemy is one who has to be tended to, dealt with, accounted for. If you do not account for your enemy then you are sure to be conquered. The enemy brought before us in Romans 7 is twofold.
[14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
A sin is anything that displeases God, that goes against his commands. Here it is not a specific sin in mind. Instead the word is used more collectively, to talk about a complex or aggregate. Sin is alive and at work in the world. It opposes God. The complex of its presence, its routines, its effects are all in mind here. Sin is an enemy to contend with.
Flesh. relating to the earthly sphere of existence worldly, earthly (contrary to spiritual) has to do with the body and living in the body; to satisfy bodily desires;
The flesh refers to the compulsions of rebellious and corrupt hearts that the law constantly stimulates towards acts of sin.
But wait, I thought God created us good, and that there is dignity, how does that jive with the view of human nature presented here.
John Chrysostom. “ If a tyrant and a robber were to take possession of a splendid mansion and a king's court, would the circumstance be any discredit to the house, inasmuch as the entire blame would come on those who contrived such an act.
Sin twists and distorts everything.It twists and distorts our flesh. It has been leading us away from God from the very beginning.
IT means our enemy is not just out there. It is inside of us. It is to be battled constantly. If we sow to the flesh…
The giving of the Spirit that will be highlight in chapter 8 is a reminder that Jesus is just someone we know
- The Deceitfulness of Sin
This passage is largely a defense of the law of God. The law that had such a prominent place in the Old Testament has now become less important. Not unimportant but less, because what is of utmost importance is Jesus and the work he has done, and entering into a relationship with him. If that is so important then what do we make of the law? Well the law still has a place.
Is the law sin? Certainly not. But through the law we become conscious of sin. The law shows us our need for a savior. Shows us where we have fallen short.
[Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.
[8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.
Would not have known what coveting is if it were not for the law.
The nature of our sinfulness is that we want to do what we ought not to do.
The law tells what sin is. V7. Without law sin is dead, lifeless. I once thought I was pretty good. AFter all, I haven't killed anyone. Haven't robbed a bank. You gotta love how high we set the bar on what it means to be a good person. But when I read God’s law I became aware of how sinful I am. Read about honoring God by tithing. That didn't go well. Read what it says about nothing profane coming out of your mouth but only what is helpful for building others up!
V13 became utterly sinful. God’s law shines a spotlight on the filth of sin. It becomes utterly sinful. Turn on the lights and the roaches scatter. They have been seen.
[11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Deceived. deceive completely, entice, delude. To mislead. Lead astray. Sin promises one thing and delivers another.
*Sin shows the bait and hides the hook.*
*over promises and under delivers.
*Boast of benefits, forget the cost.*
[So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Rom 7:12 ESV)
If you ever do any wood working you find out one of the most important tools is called a square. That's confusing because it looks like an L. But it's called a square because it squares things up. It is perfectly straight and you hold it up to a board and can tell if the board is warped or if it is straight. A warped board looks fine if it is set against a warped board. Much of our comparison of being good is one warped board comparing itself to another warped board. God’s word is the straight edge that we need. It brings us back to the truth. It calls out our coveting.
- Pervaisty of Sin
I took my car to the shop this week. My mechanic called me later. I was hoping he just wanted to catch up and see how I was doing. I could tell that tone. Ok, how bad is it. When you have a problem you want to know how bad it is.
[15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
The law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh. sold as a slave to sin (used of a person sold in the slave market). Powerless to control what is going on. Given over to a new master.
Nothing good dwells in me. That Paul the apostle. If that is Paul, what about me?!
Totally depraved. Not absolutely depraved. It is not just that some parts of ours are sinful, but rather than all of ours, our intellect, emotions, desires, hearts, decision making. It does not mean that we are depraved in an absolute sense, refers to quality and it is not that we are completely void of any good and that we are the absolute worst we could ever be. It doesn’t mean that we don’t at times do good things. We are told to see our good deeds and praise our father in heaven.
This struggle runs in every part of us.
Who is Paul referring to??
I wrote a paper on this in seminary and was going to determine exactly who Paul is referring to. I looked at the Greek, read, and came away more confused. People baffled that Paul would still struggle sinning. Let me provide a way to understand that.
The more you know the law, the more you know your sin. It is not just that you didn't murder or lie or steal. You begin to see that even the thoughts of those are wrong. Coveting. I didn't steal my friend's toy, but I have been coveting it.
[The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1Ti 1:15 ESV)
The English theologian and pastor John Newton knew his sin well. He had a name for it– Mr Self. He said:
“The (self) is the worst enemy we have to deal with, self will, self wisdom– self righteousness– self seeking– self dependence– self boasting. It is a large family. I cannot reckon up all the branches; but they are nearly related to Satan. They are all the sworn enemy to our peace. That monster Self has as many heads as Hydra, as many lives as a cat. It is more than twenty five years since I hoped it was nailed fast to the cross, but alas it is still mixing with and spoiling everything I do.” Reinke. Newton on the Christian Life, p249.
Normalize your struggle. Don’t be surprised when you feel this struggle in your life. Our thoughts betray us. Our feelings deceive us. Or logic is illogical.
Formalize an attack. Don’t just sit there and do nothing. You want to fight against it. You want to know that it is wrong. Has sin become utterly sinful to you. Or are you comfortable with it?
Paul articulates what we all feel. He reveals what is hidden inside. It reminds me that the author of this book knows the intricacies of our minds and souls.
Fight against your sin. Paul is wrestling with it. He is not giving into it.
A lot of people see their problems and minimize them. I'm angry and bitter. Maybe the doctor can give me a pill. You cannot outsource your struggle against sin. You have an enemy in your flesh and in sin that daily presents you with thoughts and attitudes that are contradictory to what God wants for you. Are you doing anything to counter that? You have to fight it. Paul is someone who is feeling the fight. HE wants one thing and is getting another, but he is striving after what God has for him. Too many people sit on the couch binge watching movies and video games and can't understand why marriage, relationships are falling apart. Where is the fight?
We label mental health issues but do little to fight it. OCD, depression, addiction. Hereditary. Yes, that is part. But you have to fight. It's a fight to read the word, to think the way God wants you to fight, to see him.
[So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (Rom 7:21 ESV).
Adjacent. Lies next to me. Present with me. Cannot leave our sin. Carry it with us. Evil. Do you know evil is next to you?
A constant battle. Lifelong. You have to fight it. The enemy is always looking to gain an upper hand. The art of war is to win without ever fighting. That is what your enemy is doing. Where he can lull you to sleep, make you forget God’s law, and that there might actually be things you are doing that are not honoring God, then he wins. Where there is no fight the battle is won. Have to fight.
Laziness: lack of discipline. Do what you need to do. Spiritual disciplines. Tame the flesh. Workout. Physical. Rest: day of rest. Being disciplined to rest leads to discipline in work.
CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters, a book of one demon talking to another demon to tempt and ruin a believer. “Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones.”
Don’t over indulge yourself. Gluttony: Not just in abundance but in extravagance. Indulgent culture. Want things just the way you like. That attitude pushes aside sacrifice. If you are going to be a part of the church you have to have a different attitude. If going to be in fellowship it will take sacrifice. Know what you want.
CS Lewis spoke about a gluttony that is not in the excess of food that she eats but in the delicacy of her tastes. “All she wants is a cup of tea properly made or an egg properly boiled or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she can never find any servant or friend who can do these simple things properly because her properly conceals an insatiable demand for the exact and almost palatal pleasure which she remembers from the past, a past described by her as the days when you could get good servants, but known to us as the day when her senses were more easily pleased, which she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Joe Rigney, Lewis on the Christian Life, 91.
We as a church are trying to work hard to get these basic disciplines into our lives
I have yet to meet a Christian that doesn't think church and fellowship are good ideas. But I know a great deal who just can’t find one good enough for them, that is just right for their needs. Nothing meets their standard or fits their many preferences. Would rather not be in one. What we value most, is the thing that does not conform to others. If we value those disciplines then we will conform our preferences to them. If we value ourselves and our own preferences, then we will never do what does not meet our standards.
***If you are going to say yes to the Spirit of God working in you then you have to say no to the flesh.*** Cant say yes to both.
Sin is all around us. We must fight it.
“The more enlightened we are the more greatness and vileness we discover in man.”5 pascal
[24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 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. (Romans 7:24-25)
Wretched: enduring toils and troubles; afflicted, wretched": pertaining to being in a wretched state, either mentally or physically - 'wretched, pathetic.'
Another tension at work. Wretched and Saved.
Grace to God through Jesus Christ our lord. Grace. a quality that adds delight or pleasure graciousness, attractiveness, charm, a favorable attitude; that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness:
When you know grace. When you are secure in it. You can admit your shortcomings to others. You are not ashamed. You know that whatever you tell them, you are worse than that. But you also know you are loved by God and all your sin is forgiven. Confident humility.
I think that would describe Paul. He is brutally honest about himself and others. But he is also confident in who Christ is.
I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am" John Newton
The goal is not self-sufficient living in constant drudgery. The law points to our need for Christ. Who will save me– cry of desperation. Who has saved me. Cry of gratefulness. We have victory in Christ. We are not trying to earn our way. We have it in him, and only in him.