Set Free—But Still at War
The passage before us today is one of the most contested in all of Scripture, but only because it touches us so deeply. It seems as if Paul is agonizing over his own inward struggles, and we read it fully aware of our own struggle with sin as well. But the question remains: Is Paul speaking about a person before coming to saving faith or after, about an unregenerate person or one born again? The question is as old as the Ancient Church, and the greatest scholars of today line up on both sides of the issue. It goes without saying that I will add nothing to the debate in this short devotion, but it is my conviction that 1) since Paul was writing to believers, and 2) since the inward struggle he describes is so personally felt by believers (and certainly myself), it is my conviction that Paul is describing the individual believer as each struggles with indwelling sin, the sins which so easily beset us, which are deeply personal for each one of us, yet shared by all of us.
Paul writes, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” How many of us know this frustration and experience it every day? I would suggest all of us. Paul continues, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” This is because “nothing good dwells in me,” and “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Paul delights in the law of God “in [his] inner being” (hardly something an unregenerate person would do), but sees “in [his] members another law waging war against the law of [his] mind and making [him] captive to the law of sin that dwells in [his] members.”
As Christians, we are only too aware of this “law of sin” that dwells within us. And we hate it, or we better. And this is because we have been transferred from darkness into light, and have been set free from sin, the law, and death. Through the work of our great High Priest, we stand before God completely whole and clean. We have experienced His saving grace. But we still need His sanctifying grace to walk in holiness before Him. God intends for us to struggle mightily against sin, which we can only do in His power. And the fact that we shall never be perfect in this life only makes us lean on Him all the more. And all of this leads seamlessly into the next chapter where Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit abiding within the Christian, the one who leads us into the battle against indwelling sin and who shall ultimately finish the work within us which our Lord began (Philippians 1:6). Yes, we know the wretchedness of which Paul speaks, but we can also say with him, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”