Summary: When we try to meet God’s standards from our own resources we will consistently fail.
New Years Eve is a time for new beginnings, a time for taking new steps in our lives. At midnight tonight millions of Americans will make new year’s resolutions for the year 2001. Typical resolutions will be losing weight, quitting smoking, spending more time with family, and working less hours. Christians often make resolutions to read through the Bible in a year, spend more time in prayer, or start serving in ministry.
Yet within a few months most of those resolutions will be forgotten. For all our sincerity on New Year’s Eve, we have trouble following through with our resolutions. It’s as if there’s a force within us that resists any positive change. You see, the most fierce battles you and I will ever fight are the battles we fight within our own souls. This inner battle between what we know to be right and what we want rages every day. It rages in the soul of the married man who finds himself attracted to a new co-worker. He knows the right thing to do, to keep strong boundaries between himself and his new co-worker. But something inside him rages against that, enticing and luring into situations he knows are dangerous and compromising. This same battle rages in the heart of the person struggling with an addiction to alcohol. Every time she hits bottom she vows to never drink again, but when the pain fades and the haze clears, she’s back to the bars. Addictions are horrible vicious cycles that often feel impossible to break, whether it’s an addiction to alcohol or drugs, or an addiction to pornography or spending money. This same inner battle rages in the person who has a character flaw he just can’t seem to change. The person who’s always negative and critical who vows to change, yet keeps slipping into her critical, sarcastic ways. The person who gossips incessantly who tries to keep his nose out of other people’s business, but he repeatedly falls back into his gossiping ways. To be human is to know what it’s like to have this inner battle raging within us.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called GOOD NEWS FOR OUR TIMES. Today we’re going to look at one of the most insightful descriptions of this inner battle you’ll ever read. Every person who’s struggled to keep a new year’s resolution, break a habit, find freedom from an addiction, or change a character flaw will identify with what we’re going to look at today in Romans. Today we’re going to look at Paul’s own description of his own struggle with the battle within.
1. Paul’s Struggle
Let’s begin by looking at vv. 14 to 25 in its entirety. Now it’s important to remind ourselves of the immediate context of this section. The entire point of the seventh chapter of Romans is to demonstrate that God’s law--the ten commandments--is good, but that it can’t break the power of sin in our lives. God’s law is good, but it’s insufficient in itself to break the power of sin in our lives.
Paul uses his own experience as an illustration of his point, and back in v. 9 he described a time in his own life when he was alive apart from the ten commandments. That was probably before his bar mitzphah as a Jewish boy. There was a time in Paul’s life when he wasn’t aware of the moral demands of the law of Moses. But when Paul became aware of the law, he somehow died. The example he used back in vv. 7 and 11 is the tenth commandment: "You shall not covet." When Paul became aware of the tenth commandment, this commandment exposed the coveting in Paul own heart. But rather than freeing Paul from coveting, the law’s exposure of coveting actually caused more coveting in his heart.
But Paul’s quick to point out that it’s not the law’s fault that this happened. The blame lays squarely at the feet of sin, because somehow sin has turned the ten commandments into a pawn of sin. So the law is simply doing what it was designed to do: exposing right and wrong, setting the standard of what’s good and bad. Paul’s point in vv. 14-25 is a continuation of his own personal experience with the ten commandments. It’s extremely important that we don’t forget that point, or we’ll end up tearing these verses out of their context and misapplying them.
Paul confesses that the ten commandments come from God--God’s law is spiritual--but he knows himself to be "unspiritual," or literally "carnal" because of his slavery to sin. This contrast between the law’s spirituality and Paul’s lack of spirituality is what leads to Paul’s inner conflict. Paul can’t understand why he does the things he does. Inwardly he loves God’s law, he delights in the ten commandments. Yet his inner desire to obey God’s law is frustrated because sin has found a home within his heart. As much as Paul wants to obey God’s law, he finds himself lacking the resources to actually do it.