Do you ever talk to yourself as if you are addressing an entity that is part of you, or inside of you, but not essentially you? Do you ever think, “why did I just do that” after you have said or done something “totally unlike you?” Do you ever resolve to stop a bad habit or start a good habit, but then find yourself drifting back into habits you had resolved to leave behind, almost as if you weren’t conscious of the drift, and then suddenly awakened back in the grip of the old? These are known as rhetorical questions, in that I already know the answer, as do you. The answers to these questions are yes, yes and yes. The apostle Paul experienced the same thing. He addressed the reality in Romans chapter 7.
“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Romans 7:7-12.
If indeed Paul is explaining a phenomenon experienced by all human beings, everywhere, regardless of their “religion” or politics or personal beliefs or circumstances, and I say he is, it would appear that this thing we Christians call sin is an entity that is part of our makeup, and motivates and deceives us to engage in doing and saying things that are contrary to God’s commandments, regardless of what we want or resolve to do. He explains further that God’s law is not only good, but good for us, and sin brings spiritual death.
“Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 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. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Romans 7:13-20.
No longer I but sin? Isn’t that an excuse, blaming sin for your actions? Maybe not. Could Paul have special knowledge? He was blinded by an encounter with the living Christ, healed miraculously, commissioned by Christ to carry His word to the gentiles, to the whole western world, and was taken to actual heaven in the spirit, if not the body, and shown things he could not reveal. So yes, he had special knowledge.
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 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 7:21-25.
Do you delight in the law of God? Or maybe you don’t. Either way, it is hard to live it, even in the simple things. Do you then substitute earthly wisdom or causes, chanting slogan words like equality, inclusiveness, tolerance, for seeking to understand yourself truly and seeking the wisdom from above? Am I implying that you can escape the grip of sin, that all you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your substitutionary savior, and all will be well? Of course not. Paul was closer to the Lord than you and I will ever be in this life, yet sin still had the upper hand. Then why accept Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice if I will still sin? I hope you really really really get this. Jesus died and rose again so that, when you sin after He becomes your savior, God the Father doesn’t see your sin, He sees Jesus’ perfect righteousness instead. You and Jesus Christ are one in his eyes.