“The Lord put it on my heart to talk to you”—“I did not hear back from that employer, God must not want me to have that job”—“That conversation went really well, God must have blessed it.”
Some people build their entire lives around statements such as these. Others think they should read God’s will into everything in their lives. For example, a man of this mindset has a flat tire during his commute to work. Afterward, he decides it was God’s will and tries to find the “hidden purpose” behind the event—when, in actuality, the man simply neglected to check the air pressure in his tires!
Should God be involved in where we plant a flower garden? Does He have an opinion on which auto mechanic we use for repairs? Is He directly involved in how we organize our home libraries? Or which pair of shoes we buy?
By using a number of verses in the Bible, we can begin to understand God’s role in our lives. The book of Colossians states, “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (1:17). In Hebrews 1:3, we find that He is “upholding all things by the word of His power.” God holds the universe together! Through the power of His Spirit, He makes certain that the laws of science are in motion—even keeping atoms from coming apart.
Without God, all physical life would cease. Realize what this means: each breath you take is only possible because the Creator is in control.
He also guides major events on Earth according to the Master Plan for mankind. Notice Daniel 2:21: “And He changes the times and the seasons: He removes kings, and sets up kings: He gives wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.”
God is certainly involved in the affairs of men, and especially His people. Yet thinking He orchestratesevery event in our lives is dangerous—and stems from an incorrect understanding of how God individually works with us.
The Smallest Matters
Jesus asked His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father [knowing]. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear you not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).
If God keeps up with every sparrow, consider how much more attention He gives His people: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (II Chron. 16:9).
In addition, “The Eternal looks from heaven, beholding all mankind; from where He sits, He scans all who inhabit the world; He who alone made their minds, He notes all they do” (Psa. 33:15, Moffatt translation).
God is both all-powerful and all-knowing, and guides how events play out on Earth. Yet how much is He directly involved in individual lives?
Each of us is a free moral agent, meaning we are free to make decisions in our lives. God has invested in Christians by giving them an earnest, or down payment, of His Holy Spirit (II Cor. 1:22). He watches all we do to see what kind of “return” He will get on His investment—how much we are growing and overcoming.
This is where the towering law of cause and effect comes into play. As human beings, and especially as God’s people, we are to be responsible and circumspect, and exercise thought when making decisions.
Proverbs describes this principle: “He that handles a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusts in the LORD, happy is he” (16:20). A variation of this verse could be rendered this way, “He that handles a matter unwisely shall find bad”—meaning he will be forced to suffer the consequences of his actions. Good choices—causes—will render good effects. Bad choices, bad effects.
Throughout the day, you have hundreds of decisions that are yours to make—each an opportunity to grow in godly maturity, experience and wisdom. Note I Corinthians 6:2: “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?”
While God is watching what you do, He will not directly interfere with the day-to-day routine of your life unless necessary. If we are sick, He will heal us on His timetable. If our lives are in peril, He will protect us through His angels. If we have a need, He will provide. But throughout all of these, we must do our part. We must maintain our health, not tempt God by putting ourselves in dangerous situations, and put forth maximum effort in all we do.
We should ask God to lead, guide and direct us throughout our lives. In order to gain more wisdom in how “to judge the smallest matters,” we must go to the source of wisdom—God.
What About Resistance?
When making important decisions, such as buying a home, a car, or seeking a job, we should always ask for God’s involvement and guidance.
Again, He does not plot every move in our lives. He allows us to make judgments and decisions on our own. The choices we make can change our circumstances and future. God will not always step in and cause us to make a different choice. He especially does not get directly involved in everyday, mundane decisions we make, such as the exact time we go to bed or what time we get up.
God does expect us, however, to be responsible and do our part. For example, if someone contacts a mortgage company when wanting to purchase a home and finds that they are unqualified for a loan, should this person give up? Should he conclude that God does not want him to buy a house?
The same conditions exist for any similar situation. Should a person give up trying to buy a car simply because the first dealership rejected his application?
Certainly not. He should go to a number of dealerships in search of one who will finance a vehicle.
Cause and effect are at work in such situations. There could be a problem with the person’s credit, something that he would need to correct before any dealership would sell him a car. At that point, it is his responsibility to correct that issue and begin trying again.
If a person is looking for a job, should he quit looking after the first several rejections? Of course not! He should continue for as long as it takes, applying both perseverance and resourcefulness.
How can we build character if we do not put forth maximum effort in all we do?
If we encounter resistance in any given situation, it does not necessarily mean God is saying, “No.” Life is a series of challenges that we must overcome. We are in a lifetime of training and enduring for a greater purpose. We should be overcoming these problematic situations that occur in our lives every day.
It is unnecessary to overanalyze every situation and confrontation we encounter by asking: “Is this God’s will?” “Is this from God?” Instead, we should simply ask in faith for God’s overall guidance, and know that He will deliver.
Notice Luke 11: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened” (vs. 9-10).
Stay in contact with God, maintain a humble attitude, and He will respond to your needs.
While seeking to do God’s will in everything, some fall into the trap of mentioning God or Jesus in virtually every sentence of their conversations. Others seem to be always saying “God willing” after every sentence: “I am going to the store later, God willing.” “We should sit down and have a cup of coffee sometime, God willing.” Or “God willing, I am going to put up a new deck in the spring.”
At their core, these actions are a form of self-righteousness and vanity. While such people think they are being humble by always involving God in their lives, they are actually drawing attention to their own “righteousness.”
This thinking breaks the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
One of the definitions of vain is “to no useful purpose.” When God’s name is constantly used in casual conversation, it is being taken in vain.
The person who constantly mentions God in conversation is in effect saying, “See how godly I am?” or “See how religious I am?” By attempting to include God in everything he does, such a person is actuallydiminishing God’s role in events.
These attitudes stem from the fact that human nature is given to extremes. If a Christian is not circumspect, he can take things too far and “go overboard.” While we should seek God’s will and talk to brethren about spiritual matters, we must be careful not to go too far.
Christians are to let their moderation be known to all men (Phil. 4:5). God wants us to be balanced in our thinking. We should never be seen as odd, weird, strange or syrupy—since this is how manmade religions look.
We should reflect a sound, balanced way of thinking in all we say and do: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7).
Time and Chance
There is another element at work in our lives, which Ecclesiastes 9:11 sums up as “time and chance.” While many of our problems, whether small or great, are caused by our weaknesses or irresponsibility, other mishaps and bad events can occur due to no fault of our own.
Under such circumstances, many people will immediately peg the blame on Satan, not realizing it was mere “time and chance.” Influenced by human nature, people love to blame bad things that happen, or even sinful actions, on what they deem as Satan’s direct involvement.
Just as God does not orchestrate every event in our lives, Satan is not behind every bad occurrence.
Consider. Would we conclude that if a person slips and injures himself tripping on a toy his child left on the floor that Satan is behind the event? No!
In the same way, we cannot blame the devil for situations we bring upon ourselves, or mere time and chance. While Satan fulfills the role of “tempter” (Matt. 4:3), God has limited him so he cannot force us to sin. Rather, the devil relies on situations, circumstances and human nature to tempt people to sin. He may cause circumstances or situations to lead us to compromise our beliefs, but the choice to sin or not to sin is ours alone.
Avoid the dangerous thinking of blaming Satan after a sin is committed. When people make Satan out to be the “bad guy” when they sinned, they are no longer growing and overcoming. Instead, they have taken on the childish attitude of “the devil made me do it”—in an attempt to deflect blame from themselves.
This excuse is as old as the Garden of Eden, when Eve said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13). Yet it was Eve’s decision to make, and the consequences (vs. 16) fell on her, not just Satan!
On the contrary, we are to be sober and vigilant because Satan is like a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8). He is constantly looking for weaknesses in our character, andwill take advantage of those flaws through temptation or deceit.
Yet God promises He will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If we allow God to fight our battles and deal with the problems we encounter each day, we will not have to fear Satan’s snares, as they will have no power over us.
In the end, Satan will interfere in our lives only to the extent we allow—and that God allows (Job 1:12,2:6). We can unknowingly nurture Satan’s involvement by failing to resist him in actions and thoughts. This is done through pride, vanity, rebellion and disobedience. Instead, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jms. 4:7).
You can resist the devil by obeying God, submitting to His laws and government, and asking Him for help every day in prayer.
We should not place too much emphasis on Satan’s influence in our lives, especially in every small thing that seems bad or wrong. At the same time, we should certainly be aware of his tactics. Our main focus should be on matching the attitude found in Psalm 119: “O how love I Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (vs. 97).
Our thoughts should be centered on God and the Work He is doing—not on the devil.
Seeing God’s Power
God cares about everything that happens to us. He is concerned about every problem we have to confront, whether small or great. No problem is too small or too big for Him. We do not have to face any problem alone. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psa. 34:19).
God also commands us to cast our cares upon Him (I Pet. 5:7). His power is available to us whenever we need it. It is by His power our prayers are answered, but we must do our part to seek wisdom and counsel, as well as implement the seven laws of success in our lives. You may want to review our booklet The Laws to Success.
While God does not orchestrate each and every event in our lives, He does want to be involved in all we do. We should not “see God” in everything, but we should see God’s power at work as we grow and overcome in this life.
Take advantage of the great privilege offered to those begotten by God to be a part of His Family. Share every aspect of your life with God, and you will see His mighty power. You will experience what moved David to say, “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusts in Him” (Psa. 34:3-4, 8).
When you do your part, God allows you to tap into His infinite power and wisdom, which then helps you make decisions—large and small. “Great is our LORD, and of great power: His understanding is infinite” (Psa. 147:5).
Treat each day as a training ground as you qualify to rule in God’s soon-coming kingdom. Consider this awesome fact as you make decisions and judgments each day. If you do, you will properly SEE God working in your life!
It is said that a flippant young man once remarked to a preacher in mocking fashion, “You say that unsaved people carry a great weight of sin. Frankly, I feel nothing. How heavy is sin? Ten pounds? Fifty pounds? Eighty pounds? A hundred pounds?”
The preacher thought for a moment, then replied, “If you laid a four-hundred-pound weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?”
The young man was quick to say, “Of course not; it’s dead”
Driving home his point, the preacher said, “The person who doesn’t know Christ is equally dead. And though the load is great, he feels none of it”
The Christian, unlike the average non-Christian, is not indifferent to the weight of sin. He is actually hypersensitive to it. Having come to Jesus Christ, his senses are awakened to the reality of sin. His sensitivity to sin intensifies as he matures spiritually. Such sensitivity prompted a saint as great as Chrysostom, the fourth-century church Father, to say he feared nothing but sin (Second Homily on Eutropius).
The apostle Paul would heartily agree. In Romans 7:14-25 he says,
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
That passage is a poignant description of someone in conflict with himself-someone who loves God’s moral law and wants to obey it, but is pulled away from doing so by the sin that is in him. It is the personal experience of a soul in conflict.
There has always been debate whether Paul was describing a Christian or a non-Christian in this passage. Some people say there is too much bondage to sin in view for this passage to refer to a Christian. Others say there is too much desire to do good for a non-Christian. You can’t be a Christian and be bound to sin, and you can’t be a non-Christian and wholeheartedly desire to keep the law of God. Therein is the conflict of interpreting the passage.
The Non-Christian View
Those who believe Romans 7:14-25 is speaking of a non-Christian say verse 14 is the key: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. ” Then they point to verse 18, which says, ” I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. ” They conclude that has to be a non-Christian because a Christian knows how to do what’s good. There seems to be an obvious lack of the Holy Spirit’s power here.
The despair of verse 24–“Wretched man that I am!”–seems far removed from the promise ofRomans 5:1-2: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
Romans 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sins power. Verse 2 says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Verses 6-7 say, “Our old self was crucified with [Christ], that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. ” Verses 11-12 say, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin…Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Verses 17-18 say, ” But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” How can the person who said all that turn around and say, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14)?
Chapter 6 emphasizes the new creation, the new nature, the new identity, the new person in Christ, and the holiness of the believer. In his new redeemed self, the believer has broken sin’s dominion. However, chapter 7 gives the other side.
Every Christian knows from experience that though he is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. In fact, that conflict is pointed out even in chapter 6: ” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness ” (vv. 12-13). Because it’s still possible for Christians to yield to sin, we are commanded not to.
Arguing that chapter 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in chapter 6 is to misunderstand the intention of chapter 6.
The Christian View
Paul says, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Romans 7:22). That certainly isn’t something a non-Christian could accurately claim. Romans 8:7 says that the unregenerate person is not subject to the law of God.
In verse 25 Paul says, ” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God .” That sounds likea Christian.
The following verses describe Paul’s thwarted desire to do what is right: ” For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate … For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish … I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good ” (vv. 15, 18-19, 21).
Romans 3 tells us that the unsaved person has no such longing to do the will of God: ” There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God … There is none who does good, there is not even one …There is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 11-12, 18). Therefore the conflict described in Romans 7 can be true of a redeemed person only.
Another question comes up at this point that has sparked an equally furious debate: What kind of Christian is Romans 7 talking about?
Some believe he’s a carnal Christian–one with a low level of spirituality who is trying in his own strength to keep the law. However Romans 7:14-25 describes a believer who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine standard. The more spiritual or mature a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings will be. An immature Christian doesn’t have such an honest self perception. The legalist is under the illusion that he is very spiritual. I believe Paul is describing himself in this chapter, judging from the extensive use of the personal pronoun “I.”
Some say Romans 7:14-25 describes Paul’s struggle before he was saved or right after he became saved and was still spiritually immature. But again, it is the mature Christian who possesses an honest self-evaluation. And Paul exhibited that in passages other than Romans 7.
- 1 Corinthians 15:9-10–Paul said, ” For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. “
- Ephesians 3:8–Paul considered himself as “the very least of all saints.” That 1 Corinthians was written before Ephesians shows he became more sensitive to sin as time went on. Although in our judgment Paul is the supreme man relative to other men, he saw himself as having fallen from the position of the least of the apostles to less than the least of all believers.
The terms Paul uses in Romans 7 are so precise that we can’t miss his struggle with sin. He states that he hates committing sin (v. 15), that he loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21), that he delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart (v. 22), and that he thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are the responses of a mature Christian.
The change in verb tenses is a clue that this passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in Romans 7:7-13 are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before his conversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. However in verses 14-25, where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are in the present tense.
I believe Romans 7:14-25 is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer. He loves the holy law of God with his whole heart, but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart wants him to.
This passage is unique in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.
Paul’s First Lament
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).
The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. He continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).
Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it: his carnal or fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition.
Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since thereis jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (vv. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.
Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (vv. 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present. Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.
Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.
Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” But how can that be since we as Christians have been delivered from sin? The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the sin principle, the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.
Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning, as is said about Ahab in 1 Kings 21:20, 25; it means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature.
Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, doesn’t it? But David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to that of Isaiah, who upon seeing a vision of God said, “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.
Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”
A self-righteous person deceives himself into thinking he is inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God.
If you’re a Christian, you can identify with that frustration. For instance, no sooner are you complimented for having done something right, and you become proud–you’ve just done something wrong. The spiritual person has a broken and contrite heart, realizing he can’t be all that God wants him to be. Sad to say, many Christians have yet to reach that point. That’s because their comprehension of God’s holy law is so shallow.
Do you know what makes a Christian want to carry out God’s law? His new nature within, which, according to 1 John 3:9, does not sin. When he goes against his new nature, it isn’t the law that is responsible, but the sin that still resides in his frail human body. A Christian will naturally pursue the moral excellence of God’s law. The more mature a Christian is–the more he loves the Lord, submits to the Spirit’s direction in his life, and grows in his understanding of God’s holiness–the greater will be his longing to fulfill the law.
Verse 17 sounds like Paul refuses to take the blame for his sin. It’s as if he’s blaming an inanimate object instead of himself. However, in verse 14 Paul acknowledges that he himself is sinful. Accepting responsibility for our failure challenges the teaching that God doesn’t hold us responsible for our sin because sin is tied to our old nature.
Yet verse 17 goes beyond Paul’s admitting that he is responsible for his sin. He specifies what part of him is responsible by making a more technical distinction: the sin that dwells in his flesh.
Paul’s reasoning in verse 17 is reminiscent of Galatians 2:20: “I [the old nature] have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. ” After salvation, sin no longer resides in a person’s innermost self, which is recreated to be like Christ. Yet sin finds its residual dwelling in our flesh. That’s why Paul said nothing good dwelt in his flesh (v. 18).
There’s a big difference between surviving sin and reigning sin: sin no longer reigns in us, but it does survive in us. We are like an artistically unskilled person who has a beautiful picture in clear view, but has no ability to actually paint it. What we need to do is ask the Master Artist to put His hand on ours to help us paint the strokes we never could have painted independently of Him. We experience victory over sin only when we yield ourselves to the One who can overcome the flesh.
Galatians 5:17 says, ” For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. ” Galatians 5:16 tells us how to win: ” But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. ” The Holy Spirit gives us victory. But let me warn you that the more victory you experience as you mature in Christ, the more you will recognizesin in your life.
Paul’s Second Lament
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (Romans7:18-20).
In verse 18 Paul gives a more technical identification of the part of him that is actually sinning than he has previously: the sin that dwells in his flesh. The flesh isn’t necessarily evil in and of itself, but it’s where sin finds its base of operation.
In verses 18-19 Paul isn’t saying he can’t figure out how to do anything right. He’s saying he can’t obey to the extent his heart longs to. If you examine your spiritual growth, you should have a greater hatred for your sin now than you did before you understood how serious sin is and how holy God is. Although spiritual growth results in a decreasing frequency of sin, growth also involves a heightened sensitivity to it.
What Paul says in verse 20 is just like what he says in verse 17. Although he had a new nature, he still fought against sin and sometimes lost. Those losses seemed overwhelming to him compared to the perfection of God’s holy law. Nevertheless his sensitivity to sin was a normal–not morbid–result of justification by faith.
At this point you might figure Paul would give up, having adequately made his point. But he starts a third lament to emphasize his frustration and sorrow over sin.
Paul’s Third Lament
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans7:21-23).
In contrast to the law of God, Paul saw another law or standard that was making demands on him: the law or principle of evil. Evil battles every good thought, word, and deed. Rather than our sin nature’s being eradicated in this life, as some theologians have concluded, Paul tells us that evil is present within us and creates conflict.
Verse 22 tells us that Paul delighted in God’s law. The phrase “in the inner man” could be translated, “from the bottom of my heart.” Paul, deep down, had a great love for the law of God. That part of us “is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16), “strengthened with power through [God’s] Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).
In verse 23 Paul identifies the source of his problems as the sin that resides in human nature. Sometimes the battle went in favor of his unredeemed flesh and brought him into captivity. That implies Paul is speaking as a redeemed person because unredeemed people can’t be brought into captivity–they’re already there. When sin wins the victory in the spiritual struggle, the believer becomes a slave to the sin that at least temporarily masters him.
The author of Psalm 119 experienced the same conflict Paul did. His psalm reflects his deep longing for the things of God.
- My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word. My eyes fail with longing for Your word, while I say, “When will You comfort me?” Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes (vv. 81-83).
- If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction (v. 92).
- Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (v. 97).
- I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law (v. 113).
- I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (v. 131).
- Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight (v. 143).
- I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law (v. 163).
- Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble (v. 165).
- I have longed for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight (v. 174).
The measure of spirituality that the psalmist expresses is somewhat intimidating. That is why the last verse in Psalm 119 is so surprising: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (v. 176). You might think that a person with such an intense love for God’s law would not experience the failure of going astray spiritually. But that is the conflict all believers experience.
Why do we sin? Because God didn’t do a good enough job when He saved us? Because He gave us a new nature that isn’t complete yet? Because we’re not prepared for heaven yet and still need to earn our way in? No, it’s because sin is still present in our humanness, which includes the mind, emotions, and body.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3 Paul says, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds) (KJV).” Although we still have physical bodies, we are engaged in spiritual warfare using spiritual resources.
Paul’s three laments reveal the conflict every believer experiences with sin. From that conflict the believer cries out for deliverance.
Oh,wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver mefrom the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.
As if three laments aren’t enough, Paul lets out a wail in verse 24 that exceeds them all in intensity. He cries out in distress and frustration with his spiritual conflict. Can this be the despair of a Christian–let alone that of the apostle Paul? But Paul wasn’t the only godly person who refused to keep silent about inner turmoil.
- Psalm 6 (KJV)–David cried out, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also very vexed [terrified]; but thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh, save me for thy mercies’ sake…I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears” (vv. 1-6). David was saying, “I’m sick and tired of not being everything I ought to be!”
- Psalm 130 (KJV)–The psalmist wrote, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope (vv. 1-5).
In verse 24 Paul rhetorically asks who will rescue him from the sin that resides in his body. “The body of this death” literally refers to our physical body, which is subject to sin and death.
I remember reading that near Tarsus, where Paulwas born, lived a tribe that inflicted a most gruesome punishment upon a convicted murderer. The tribe fastened the body of the murder victim to that of the killer– tying shoulder to shoulder, back to back, arm to arm–and then drove the killer from the community. The bonds were so tight that he could not free himself, and after a few days the decay in the dead body transferred itself to the living flesh of the murderer. In expressing his desire to be free from the sin that clung to his flesh, Paul might have had that ghastly punishment in mind.
In verse 25 Paul says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” That’s a dramatic change from his laments over sin and death. Paul always kept things in proper perspective.
- Romans 8–Paul was assured of ultimate triumph through Jesus Christ over the conflict with sin: ” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body ” (vv. 18-19, 22-23). We Christians await the final phase of salvation. We’re still looking to that day when we are redeemed in body as well as soul. So Paul thanks God in Romans 7:25 that the end of the conflict will come through Christ when we enter into His presence and are glorified.
- 1 Corinthians 15–“For this perishable must put on imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 53, 57). That last phrase is almost the same one Paul uses in Romans 7:25 in reference to our bodily resurrection and glorification.
- 2 Corinthians 5–“For indeed while we are in this tent [body], we groan, being burdened [with our humanness]; because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (v. 4).
- Philippians 3–“We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (vv. 20-21). Ours is a triumphant hope!
Yet the battle goes on. We cry with the poet Tennyson, who wrote, “Ah for a new man to arise in me, that the man I am cease to be!” (Maud, x. 5). The battle won’t be over until Jesus gives us immortality. Full deliverance awaits glorification. But we can experience victory here and now in the power of the Holy Spirit.
New International Version (NIV)
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[a] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[b] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
In Singapore, the Chinese New Year season’s social and business dinners often begin with a dish consisting of salads, dressings, pickles, and raw fish. The name of the dish, Yu Sheng, is a pun that sounds like “year of prosperity.” It is traditional for those present to toss the salad together. As they do, certain phrases are repeated to bring about good fortune.
Our words may express our hopes for others for the year ahead, but they can’t bring about good fortune. The important issue is–what does God want to see in us in the coming year? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his desire and prayer that their love “may abound still more in knowledge and all discernment”. The church had been a great tower of support for him, yet he urged them to continue to grow to love others.
Paul wasn’t talking about intellectual knowledge but knowledge of God. Love for others starts with a closer relationship with Him. With a fuller knowledge of God, we can then discern between right and wrong. Giving our best wishes to others for the coming year is fine. But our heartfelt prayer should be that we abound in love, so that we may be “filled with the fruits of righteousness…to the glory and praise of God.”
Teach us Thy patience! still with Thee
In closer, dearer company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In trust that triumphs over wrong.–Gladden
people with a heart for God have a heart for people…
“Whatever brings you to your knees in weakness carries the greatest potential for your personal success and spiritual victory.”
When I am weak, then I am strong.” These words, taken from Paul’s writings in 2 Corinthians, bring thoughts of contradiction. How can we be strong, when we are weak? How can we function, when it feels as though our world will break and fall apart? Shouldn’t we try to hold everything together, not letting anything slip beyond our control, our rescue, or our grasp?
Some of you who read these words know the pressure that comes from trying to keep everything in check and looking nice and orderly on the outside. But on the inside, a torrential river is raging its way throughout your life.
None of us can escape the pressures of life. Most of us know what it feels like to be disappointed. We know the painfulness of embarrassment, the sting of rejection, and the sorrow of failure. Regardless of the level of control we have over our lives, there always comes a time when the stove top settings end up on high and lids come boiling off the pots and pans.
What pots are boiling out-of-control in your life? Is there a financial need? Maybe there is a relationship problem you are facing, and your prayer each night before you turn off the light is for God’s wisdom and guidance in handling it. Countless people have physical needs that go far beyond what many of us can imagine.
Regardless of what your situation is, you can trust this principle: whatever brings you to your knees in weakness carries the greatest potential for your personal success and spiritual victory.
No one enjoys feeling weak, whether it is emotionally, spiritually, or physically. There is something within the human spirit that wants to resist the thought of weakness. Many times this is nothing more than our human pride at work. Just as weakness carries a great potential for strength, pride carries an equally great potential for defeat. It cannot co-exist with God’s Spirit of love and humility. Pride was Satan’s downfall, and it is the one element that must be removed if we want to experience the peace that comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
As long as pride is involved, there will be a distance between you and God. This happens because pride resists the loving nature of God. It can’t stand to be humbled, and this is the very thing God calls us to be. (James 4:6; 1 Peter 3:8) Instead of moving you toward God, pride separates you from Him by tempting you to be strong in your own strength and not in the strength of Christ.
Paul learned a valuable lesson in this area. God allowed him to be buffeted by a severe trial in order to humble him and remove the potential for pride. (2 Corinthians 12:7) As a young man he was trained by one of the greatest scholars in Jewish thought and culture. He understood the elements of the law and practiced them with great zeal. Yet when he came face to face with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road his life was changed. He no longer viewed the world around him through human eyes. God gave him spiritual insight that far surpassed anything he had known.
Still, he had to be broken further so that he could be used in an even greater way by God. Like everyone else, Paul faced temptation. He was not spared affliction. One in particular was severe enough for him to pray three times for its removal. Later, he recorded its existence in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
It was through this time of weakness that Paul learned a new principle: weakness is strength. Frailty in a certain area is not something that should bring embarrassment. When we are humbled before God, He sees the meekness of our hearts and sends His strength and blessings into our lives.
Even though Paul could have listed many personal accomplishments, he chose to tell his audience what he believed was the key to experiencing a victorious life, and that was in accepting his weakness so that the strength of Christ might live fully in him. He was writing about living a completely surrendered life to Jesus Christ. “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (v. 9).
We are called to be strong in Christ. Our strength is not within ourselves or our ability. It is in Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:19) God knows until we come to the end of ourselves there is little chance we will turn over the reins of our lives to Him. He has given you a limited free will. This means that at any time He can step in and put a stop to a problem or a certain course you have chosen to take. Many times, He does not do this because He wants you to see that on your own you will struggle and fall, but in Him you will have strength and victory.
We do not know the trial that Paul was facing. He called it a “thorn in the flesh.” In the Greek, the word thorn means a stake used for torturing or impaling someone. This was not a gentle infliction. It was painful. He writes that he was buffeted by it, indicating that the trial was either ongoing or recurring. When Paul felt he could no longer withstand the blows leveled against him, God reassured him that His grace, the grace of God, is sufficient for anything he faced.
There are several ways you can respond to trials. You can blame others or even God for your circumstances. You can become bitter and resentful; you can give up and end up fighting feelings of depression; grit your teeth and strive to keep all the lids perfectly on the pots, even though the heat is turned up on high; or you can surrender your desire to control your life and let God take care of you.
There is true value in weakness because it helps you view your life under the light of God’s mercy. You may accomplish great things. People amass financial fortunes having never established a close personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They climb the ladder of success, drive expensive cars, build huge homes, and travel around the world, but without the hope that Jesus brings, their souls are empty.
What the world views as being strong is really nothing more than weakness under wraps. Strength that withstands the stresses and blows of this life comes from one Source, the eternal indwelling presence of God within the life of every believer.
When we accept our weaknesses and the fact that we cannot handle them on our own, God goes to work. He sends encouragement and a sense of creativity, helping you to try new avenues that lead to hope and fresh beginnings.
Are you weary from trying? Has exhaustion made its mark? Are you afraid others will see your weaknesses and laugh? Is there a thorn in your life that could expose your deepest fear? Let it go. Release your fears to Jesus who loves you. Let Him strengthen you. Nothing compares to the freedom that waits for you within His loving arms. Nothing will ever bring more completion to your heart and soul than knowing the unconditional love of God. It is yours today.
The Power Of Our Weaknesses
None of us enjoys feeling weak. We like to think we are strong and can do anything we are given to do. However, it is at the point of our greatest weakness that God comes to us speaking words of hope and encouragement.
Why does weakness work in your favor?
Weakness has the ability to bring you to the end of yourself. It is there you realize your need for Someone greater. Only Jesus Christ can calm the storm that is battering your life. Only He can provide the wisdom you need to stand and not fall in times of temptation.
Obedience and commitment are two key principles for spiritual success. When we submit our lives to Jesus Christ we are telling Him that we are ready to obey His commands. This is an indication that we are committed to Him and seek to lay down our human desires in return for an eternal perspective. Submission is a tough command, and you cannot do it without the help of Christ.
If we disobey the Lord, He will allow us to hurt until our wills are broken. Painful as it is, experiencing a season of adversity may be the only way many will relinquish their need for control over their lives.
However, trials are not always a result of sin, they come to strengthen us and fit us for God’s service. Submission to Jesus Christ is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of holy allegiance, or great internal strength, power, and peace.
God’s goal is for you to be weak from a human perspective but strong from a spiritual one. It is then that He fills your life with a resilient strength far beyond the comprehension of this world.