Struggling with sin. 7:13-25
In chapter 7, Paul outlines a blessing that accompanies justification, namely, freedom from the law's demands. In v14-25, Paul discusses a question he raises in v13, namely, that the law, which is good, is somehow responsible for our death. Not so, says Paul, sin is responsible for our death. God's good law, on confronting sin, exposes and accentuates it. For this reason, a person confronted by the regulations of the law, finds that they are stimulated to do the very opposite of what they know is right. Thankfully, Jesus has rescued us from "this body of death."
v13. The law, the "good thing", is not responsible for our death. Sin is the venomous snake. It attached itself to the good thing, and in so doing, its murderous intent was exposed. This passage has much to say about the law and so we are bound to ask, what law? There is no doubt that Paul always has in mind the Law of Moses as the definitive rule of God's law, but as we well know, even Jesus had a few things to say on the issue of morality. So, we are best to define law as "the will of God as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed", Charles Hodge.
v14. The law is "spiritual", ie. of God, whereas we humans are "unspiritual", ie. of the flesh, carnal, corrupted by sin and against God.
v15. Paul now illustrates the human condition confronted by the law of God. The problem is that the law tells us what to do, but the sinful nature rises up against the law and drives us into blind disobedience.
v16. Sinful rebellion, acted out in defiance of "the good thing", of itself affirms that God's law is good, beautiful.
v17. Constant rebellion, in the face of God's good law, shows that our problem is not one of the human will, but rather of a deadly condition affecting humanity, namely, slavery to the sinful nature.
v18. This sinful condition leaves a person powerless when it comes to doing good. Our perilous condition is easily recognized, because although we approve God's good law, along with the value in keeping it, we are fully aware that we can't keep it.
v19-20. Restatement of v15b, 16a and 17.
v21. "So, this is my experience of the Law; I desire to do what is right, but wrong is all that I can manage", James Moffatt. We need to be aware that the commentators are divided when it comes to Paul's use of the word "law" in verses 21-23. Most suggest that the word takes on a new meaning: either i] a rule or governing principle, or ii] anything that exercises authority and control over us. These notes take the view that Paul has not changed his use of "law" in these verses.
v22-23. The complexity of these two verses has spawned a myriad of confused translations. The following paraphrase is offered as a possible way forward. "In line with the considerate side of my nature, I affirm God's law, but I am also aware that God's law prompts a different reaction in the corrupt side of my nature, and this reaction overwhelms my affirmation of the law, and further enslaves me to sin." In these two verses Paul spells out, in a little more detail, the different ways ("another" = different ways) we experience God's law. My "Godward immortal side", my considerate humane self, delights in God's law. On the other hand, my corrupted carnal self ("sin at work within my members") powerfully reacts to God's law ("law of my mind") and further enslaves me to sin.
v24 -25a. Where shall a person, in such a wretched condition, find help? Through faith in Jesus Christ we are set free from the bondage of sin and death.
v25b. Paul concludes with a short summary: God's law prompts our affirmation on one hand, but sinful servitude on the other.
The issue of indwelling sin
In the Tom and Jerry cartoons, Tom constantly faces moral dilemmas. When faced with his dilemma, an angel appears on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both suggesting a course of action. When it comes to dealing with Tweedy bird, a kindly consideration does seem best, but the devil's proposal always wins out.
In our passage for study, Paul speaks as an unregenerate moral man, an Israelite bound by the law of Moses. As he writes, he has in mind those believers who think that by law-obedience they can progress their Christian lives. Every human has a sense of a higher good, and yet, the greater our expectation of the good, the greater our rebellion against it. Yes, our condition is "wretched", we are indeed slaves to sin.
We may like to think that a believer is free from the corruption of sin in the inner self, but the truth is there is no sinless Christian. As far as indwelling sin is concerned, there are a number of points we can make about this constant foe in the Christian life.
i] Every true believer struggles with indwelling sin, 1Jn.1:8.
ii] Indwelling sin is accentuated when we try to use submission to the law as a means to restrain evil and progress goodness.
iii] No believer understands why they sin, nor why they should remain in a sinful state; it is a mystery.
iv] A believer can in no way excuse their sin. We are always responsible.
v] No believer stands condemned because of recurrent sin, no matter how regularly they are plagued by it.
vi] Every believer is assured of ultimate victory over indwelling sin through their identification with the risen Lord.
"Who will rescue me from this body that turns life into death? God alone can through Jesus Christ our Lord!", William Barclay.
Consider the above 6 points and relate them to your own life.