The Battle with Sin
7 Does this mean that the Law is sinful? Certainly not! But if it had not been for the Law, I would not have known what sin is really like. For example, I would not have known what it means to want something that belongs to someone else, unless the Law had told me not to do this. 8It was sin that used this command as a way of making me have all kinds of desires. But without the Law, sin is dead.
9Before I knew about the Law, I was alive. But as soon as I heard that command, sin came to life, 10and I died. The very command that was supposed to bring life to me, instead brought death. 11 Sin used this command to trick me, and because of it I died. 12Still, the Law and its commands are holy and correct and good.
13Am I saying something good caused my death? Certainly not! It was sin that killed me by using something good. Now we can see how terrible and evil sin really is. 14We know that the Law is spiritual. But I am merely a human, and I have been sold as a slave to sin. 15 In fact, I don't understand why I act the way I do. I don't do what I know is right. I do the things I hate. 16Although I don't do what I know is right, I agree that the Law is good. 17So I am not the one doing these evil things. The sin that lives in me is what does them.
18I know that my selfish desires won't let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot. 19Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong. 20And so, if I don't do what I know is right, I am no longer the one doing these evil things. The sin that lives in me is what does them.
21The Law has shown me that something in me keeps me from doing what I know is right. 22With my whole heart I agree with the Law of God. 23But in every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do. 24What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die? 25Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me.
So with my mind I serve the Law of God, although my selfish desires make me serve the law of sin.
Before he met Jesus, Paul spent all of his time seeking to earn God’s favour (see Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:6). Yet when he encountered the risen Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9), he came to see that the Law could never make a person right with God (Rom 3:23).
Paul came to understand that the Law, far from saving people, arouses the sinful desires in a person resulting only in spiritual death (vv 8-9). It was this inner arousal brought on by the Law that created inner turmoil for a “good” Jew like Saul of Tarsus (vv 15, 18b-19).
It is because of our sinful nature that no one can ever obey the Law perfectly – which is the prerequisite for gaining eternal life through the Law. Who, then, can be saved? Paul exclaims, “Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me” (v 25a).
Under the new covenant God gives us a brand new heart, and he implants his Law deep within it, as the prophet Ezekiel prophesied, “I will take away your stubborn heart and give you a new heart and a desire to be faithful. You will have only pure thoughts, because I will put my Spirit in you and make you eager to obey my laws and teachings.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Our obedience to our heavenly Father now flows directly from our inner most being – something that never existed under the old covenant. Our desires, our attitude, and our ways of thinking – God changes all of these, from the inside out, bringing about a transformation that will last through all of eternity.
Heavenly Father, I admit that I cannot change myself, try as I may. Forgive me for believing otherwise. Lord, cause your Holy Spirit to work deep within my heart in order to make me less like myself and more like Jesus in thought, in word, and in deed. In his name I pray, Amen.
Wayne Baxter is Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek at Heritage College & Seminary in Cambridge. He earned his Ph.D. in Religious Studies (specializing in Early Christianity) at McMaster University and his Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of three books as well as numerous scholarly articles. Wayne is ordained with the Christian & Missionary Alliance and has pastored churches in Windsor, Ottawa, and Toronto. Books: Road to Renewal: Seven Prayers That Will Change You (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2017 forthcoming) Growing Up to Get Along: Conflict and Unity in Philippians (Castle Rock: CrossLinks, 2016) We’ve Lost. What Now? Practical Counsel from the Book of Daniel (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2015) Israel’s Only Shepherd: Matthew’s Shepherd Motif and His Social Setting, Library of New Testament Studies 457 (London: T & T Clark, 2012)