The Battle Within
Re-Translated In January 2000
1. Today we read from chapter seven and verse seven. The following words were written just before that. "When we used to live following the flesh, our desires which called out to sin worked by the law in our bodily members and bore fruit leading to death. However, now we have become as dead persons to the law which used to bind us and we are set free from the law. The result of that is not the old way of living in obedience to the letter, but serving in a new way of life where one follows "the Spirit," (verses five and six). [The Lord] gave us these words last week. This message will be expanded upon further as we go from the last half of chapter seven to chapter eight which we will go on reading for the next few weeks. The section in chapter seven we read today deals with "when we used to live following the flesh" from verse five. Then, chapter eight corresponds with verse six's "But, now" and with what comes after that. We understand that because the words "therefore, now" appear in chapter eight and verse one.
2. As we read today's passage of scripture what everyone notices immediately is the word "I or me" appears and not "we or us" like we've had so far. Upon simple reflection, it means that Paul's personal experience is recorded here. But, we will not concentrate our attention on just Paul's experience because Paul probably did not write this with such an intention. What he was trying to tell us is definitely a very universal subject even though he overlayed it with his own experiences. As stated before, it is about what "when we used to live following the flesh" means. So, while we inquire as to the meaning of this [phrase] I'd like us to read this [text]. What's more, as Paul speaks using the pronoun "I" and doesn't regard this as though it had nothing to do with him, so I would like us to read this [text] while reflecting on ourselves and each "I or me" respectively.
For Sin To Reveal Its True Nature
3. First, please look from verses seven to thirteen. Paul moves his speech along with the following such words: "Well, what does it amount to? Is the law sin?" He is talking like this because earlier in verse five the text said, "The desire of the flesh which calls out to sin is at work in the bodily members through the law and brings fruit that leads to death." Paul takes up the misunderstanding which arises from it and refutes it. Then he elucidates how that the problem is not in the law itself.
4. The law first makes us conscious of sin. Paul takes up as an example here the words from the ten commandments, "Thou shalt not covet." This is the tenth commandment. When we encounter the words of the law "Thou shalt not covet," we come to be aware of the sin of coveting. That covetousness is a sin begins to grow in our awareness. That is certainly true. That is one of the functions which the words of the commandments have. However, being conscious of sin does not mean liberation from sin. A consciousness of covetousness does not set a person free from covetousness itself. Therein lies the great problem which everyone is experiencing. Indeed, by growing in one's awareness of covetousness, far from being set free from sin, much rather, the sin of coveting begins to grow in power and dominate a person. Paul puts it like this: "However, sin took the opportunity by the commandment and aroused within me every form of coveting," (verse eight).
5. When a person is told, "Thou shalt not covet," a person starts to covet with the awareness that what used to be unconsciously coveted is now covetousness. Thus, one becomes more deeply caught up in the sin of coveting. [The trap gets deeper] because when one still dares to covet even though one understands that "it is a sin to covet," coveting in a real sense becomes the coveting [it is]. Sin is something we are made aware of by the law and has the disposition that "even though we know it's a sin, we still do it." Sin takes on such an active and progressive vitality [of its own] through the commandments. [In other words] to put it conversely "If there weren't [any] laws, sin would be dead."
6. Verses nine [through eleven] have their roots deep in Paul's own personal experience. "I once lived without a relationship to the law. But, when the commandment came on the scene, sin came to life and I died. Then, I understood that the commandment which ought to have produced life was a means leading to death. Sin took the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and ended up killing me by the commandment," (vv. nine through eleven). I think Paul here has a specific picture in his mind about himself when he was a little child and of himself after he learned the law and was considered an adult in the Jewish world.
7. I hope I don't bore you with this very personal account but, when I was sixteen, my youngest sister was born. I was very happy and used to go for walks pushing her baby stroller often. The other day, out of nowhere, I began to recall those days. Actually, it was already more than twenty years ago, but I wrote a song for my sister who was then a baby. What I sang about was her innocent behavior and perfect smiles and how bright the inside of our home would become since my sister was born. And at the same time it was a song I made while thinking of how I had lost long ago everything my baby sister [still] had. "I had gotten like this without realizing it." While viewing my baby sister, I was having these kinds of thoughts back then.
8. I don't think an infant is completely sinless. But, they don't sin with an awareness of sin or in defiance against their consciences. Therefore, there isn't darkness in their souls. When Paul says "I once lived without a relationship to the law," I would think that's what he meant. And, an infant is soon taught about good and evil from its parents and surrounding adults. In the world of the Jews they are taught the law of Moses. Until they are considered an adult at age thirteen they make a study of the law focused on memorization. The commandments come on the scene of their lives. Good and evil become clear to them through all that. But it does not necessaryily mean that one can claim that by [knowing good and evil] a person keeps sin at bay and [stays] pure and clean. Instead, as they grow up they get more and more defiled. They get more and more dirty in the way they sin consciously, and worse, in the way they sin as if it was nothing or it will never be detected.
9. An adult corrects a child. That is important and necessary. They say, "You don't understand a thing." That's certainly true. There are many things that an adult understands. But, you could never make the claim that if you understand then it will lead to living right or you will be set free from evil and be pure. Rather the more one understands the dirtier one becomes. Sin's hold over us keeps getting stronger. If we honestly look back on ourselves, nobody could help but think: "I have gotten like this without realizing it." That's what Paul is saying. "But, when the commandment came on the scene, sin came to life and I died. Then, I understood that the commandment which ought to have produced life was a means leading to death." The law should have been something that lead to life. However, in all reality, that is not the case.
10. It is not because there is a problem in the law. "The law is a holy thing, the commandments are also holy, just, and good." The problem is in "sin." In using the law which we would expect to be a good thing in origin, sin controls humanity and causes death. Sin really reveals its true nature in this. Sin wears a mask in the world. It appears in desirable and at times lovely dress. It comes with a face which can at times be mistaken for pure love with a beautiful likeness as if to promise happiness and blessing. But, through the commandments its mask is peeled off and it exposes a grotesque figure. The monster reveals its true nature to plunge us to hell.
The Losing Battle Of The Person In The Flesh
11. So, Paul once again gets into the core of the problem when he states that the law itself is neither sin nor a defying of God. "We know that the law is spiritual. But, I am a person of flesh and sold over to sin," (verse fourteen).
12. It is often debated as to when this was an experience for Paul. Was it before Paul's conversion or was it Paul's experience as a Christian? Some argue this is before Paul's conversion because of the picture laden with a sense of defeat all the way to verse twenty-five. Others think this is his experience as a Christian because verse fourteen is written in the present tense.
13. So then, if you ask what do I think about it, it doesn't make much a difference to me "when the experience was." I gave my reason at the very beginning of the chapter. It is that Paul's intentions did not lie in that area. Paul's experience is surely at the base of the issue, but what Paul is wanting to reason out is the substance of "when we used to live following the flesh" from verse five. What we notice right off is that both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit do not appear in the second half of chapter seven. (Verse twenty-five is an exception as I mention later). In other words, in this text only a divided "I" and the law and sin appear. Within this composition a single struggle is sketched [for us]. Rather than focusing on whether this composition deals with before or after his conversion, we should direct our attention to the text itself above all things.
14. He acknowledges the law as good. Therefore, he wishes to carry out what the law calls good. He does not want to carry out what the law has determined is bad. To put it stronger, it would mean he hates evil. But, he cannot do what he aspires to. Instead, he ends up doing what he doesn't want to do. This means that a different power exists than the self which aspires and desires. It is sin. And the bad thing is this sin lives in us and would control us. What Paul is talking about here is "the division between sincere will and action" which everybody experiences. In verse eighteen Paul speaks as follows: "I know good does not live inside me, that is, in my flesh. [I know this] because I have a will to do good, but I cannot practice it."
15. In verses twenty-one and following, Paul illustrates this condition as a conflict between "the I of desire, or my desire" and "the I of my behavior, my actions." "My desire" is called "the inner man" in verse twenty-two, and in verse twenty-three it is called "the heart (in another translation, reason)." In contrast to this, "my actions" are called "bodily members" and in verse twenty-five [he] called this "the flesh" as well. There is an unending battle between these two. According to that principle [of the two forces in unending battle] "the I of desire" cannot completely subdue [the flesh]. "The I of my behavior" which has another law exists and poses a challenge in the struggle with "the I of desire." If we ask which will win, it is this "I of my actions." Because the powerful monster of sin which lives inside a person lends it support. "The inner man" [cannot] bring about victory. It is a completely lost battle. The loser only becomes a prisoner of war. [We find] the following truth written in verses twenty-two and twenty-three: "With 'the inner man' I rejoice in the law of God, but I understand in my bodily members there is another principle, a battle with the principle of my heart, and it is making me a captive by the principle of sin which is in my bodily members," (vv. twenty-three through twenty-four). Here the man can't help but finally give a shout of lament. "How miserable a person I am! Who will save me from this body so set for death?"
16. Paul answers this question here with no shortage of vim and vigor. "I give thanks to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Because he is writing the epistle by verbal dictation, [this burst of joy] probably can't be avoided and seems out of place at this point in the text.1 I suppose this sentence should be placed in parentheses because its message comes after what Paul has so persistently argued for in chapter, [which is], "Thus, I myself serve the law of God with my heart, but with the flesh I am serving the principle of sin."
17. "How miserable a person I am! Who will save me from this body so set for death?" If it were only up to "me," the law and sin, there would be no salvation anywhere. The composition of the losing battle stays the same all the way to hell. If you would consider changing the composition of this battle, salvation from it would only come from the outside. And salvation has come. Therefore, a new name hardly detectable in the latter half of chapter seven comes to be discovered from the beginning of chapter eight. There is salvation whenever this name is discovered. Although [we had] a losing war when we couldn't do anything to help ourselves and "when we used to live in the flesh," there is in this very text [in chapter eight] a "now" that shows us a new development. We can live in this new "now." We don't need to be losers anymore living in the flesh. Therefore, as Paul enters chapter eight he begins speaking like this: "Therefore, now, the person joined to Christ Jesus is not bound by sin because the principle of the Spirit which brings life through Christ Jesus has set you free from the principle of sin and death," (8:1-2).
1 Paul should have put verse twenty-five later in chapter eight, but he wrote it too early here in chapter seven. This surely interrupts the flow of logic but it can't be helped because he is not writing this epistle but talking. So probably he is suddenly so full of joy as he thinks of how he has been saved by Christ and praises God for it, which was really the answer to the question.