by Steve DuPlessie
Ever wonder why you do what you do? Even your best intentions somehow get derailed, and you end up in the very place you didn’t want to go. Happens to me more than I want to admit. But I’ve come to realize I’m not alone.
Romans 7 is a powerful, challenging look into the personal life of the apostle Paul. (Listen again here) Paul admits there’s a battle going on in him, and he expresses the confusion and the conflict pretty well: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Can you relate? I can. Best intentions, foiled again.
Even Paul disappoints himself. Paul — this giant of spiritual maturity and theological sophistication, this proven leader and prime example for all of us — and for Paul, he admits what most of us are reluctant to admit to ourselves, never mind anyone else: “I can’t do it. No matter how hard I try, I still can’t do it. I can’t go without sinning; I disappoint myself, never mind God.”
1 John 1:6 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” So Paul humbly faces it and names it, surfaces it: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I can’t actually carry it out. For I don’t do the good I want to do, but the evil I do don’t want to do—this is exactly what I keep on doing.” How does Paul respond to this frustrating and condemning confusion? Verse 24…
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Listen, if that is you, if the reality doesn’t match your sincere desire, no matter what you try to do, it is because of the persistent war within, the war between your old sin nature continuing to try to influence and fighting for control over the new life in the Spirit. And if it brings you any comfort, even the apostle Paul admits to the same constant struggle. And in this struggle, the bright light of God’s perfect Law has done its job: revealed the need for a savior, and Paul responds, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Listen, sanctification by the Law is just as impossible as justification by the Law. So what does work? Most of us fall into one of two general groups. Some are fighters and some are folders. The fighters see the war within as a spiritual challenge that energizes them to try harder to resist sin, work harder at being a better Christian, more discipline, more study, more programs.
And the folders, people like me, tend to say “I can’t do it,” and they get spiritually discouraged and exhausted, so they just throw in the towel and give up. Why even bother trying if the apostle Paul can’t make it work…
So what should we do with this inner conflict, the war within? Not trying harder. Not more good intentions. And not giving up. Let me suggest a third path: Just resting in what Jesus already did and trusting the grace of God. Philippians 2:12 and 13 reassures us, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (That simply means live with humility before God, not pride), for it is God who works in you both to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” It is God who saves you, and so it is also God who works in you both to will, and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose in you. Can you trust him to do that?
“Be confident of this: He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it!”
– Philippians 1:6