The Struggling Christian- Part 2
In last week’s article, we discovered from Romans 8:2 that there are two principles at work in the believer – the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death. We were able to emphasize these truths:
1.A Struggle with Indwelling Sin is both Comforting and Discomforting.
2.The Struggle with Indwelling Sin is both Daily and Deadly
In this article, we will consider in more detail how the Believer can overcome in the daily struggles with their flesh.
3. Victory in the Struggle with Indwelling Sin is Exposed as Futile by A Law-Based Performance in the Flesh
John Piper writes, “The point of Romans 7 is not that we should make peace with sin, but that we should make war on sin in our own lives and know how to understand ourselves and how to respond when we suffer tactical defeats in the war. Romans Chapter 6 makes clear that we will win the war against sin (see Roms. 6:14). Chapter 7 makes clear that it will not be without tactical defeats that will make us love our Savior all the more. It’s the earnestness of the war and the response to defeat that show your Christianity, not perfection.”
I think all believers can identify with Paul as he says in Romans 7:15, “For that which I am doing I do not understand.” This phrase reveals confusion and tension. What is the cause of this state of tension? It is attributable to the fact that the Christian is not practicing what is consistent with their new life in Christ. The obvious result is tension — a state of inward conflict. This is a common experience of all believers. What Christian, after being tripped up by some besetting sin, has not found themselves saying, “I can’t believe I actually did or said such a thing. This isn’t the real me.” Speaking as a believer, you are absolutely right – that is not the real you. Have you ever heard someone say about a friend or loved one, “Well, they are just not themselves today.” By this they mean that the person is not acting consistently with their true self. In light of this common experience, we find that it is also a confusing experience.
Romans 7:16 reveals that selfish, sinful actions are contrary to our true identity. “It is no longer I, but sin that dwells in me.” Our behavior is influenced by the principle of sin and selfishness that still lives in each of us as believers.
How many times have we as Christians struggled to break a habit only to wind up under its bondage again? How many times have we resolved to control our tempers, our tongues, our thoughts, to overcome sexual drives and fantasies that we know is leading us into dangerous territory, to bring our bodies under subjection and control our eating, only to blow it again and again?
Someone says, “It sounds like you’re saying the Christian is to expect to live in constant defeat or just to adjust to the fact that we’re only human and it’s only natural for us to sin! NO! NO! I am saying what the Apostle Paul is saying and that is not that Christians live in continual defeat, but that no Christian lives in continual, unbroken, never-failing victory over sin.
Once again we read John Piper as he writes, “Paul is not telling us that the life of the “wretched man” is as bad as it could be, only that it is not as good as it should be, and that because the man delights in the law and longs to keep it perfectly his continued inability to do so troubles him acutely.”
A. Overcoming in the Struggle with the Flesh won’t be Achieved by Performance-oriented Effort!
Paul reminds us that the lawful use of the law is to shut us up to Christ, not to give us a goal to shoot at. Our tendency is to seek a principle, a law, or a formula that we can begin to work with and apply it to our flesh. We find it very difficult to get away from the belief that somehow a person can merit favor with God and improve their standing with God, or curb and control selfish, sinful problems by observing rules and regulations, or by practicing principles and precepts. Yet the truth is when achieving is substituted for believing, grit (stubborn determination) is substituted for grace, merit exempts mercy, and the result is a Christian who is spiritually bound-up, emotionally hung-up, and relationally stood-up.
Will power plus rules and regulations cannot overcome sin’s influence. This self-effort, performance-oriented attempts to deal with indwelling sin frustrates grace, fosters pride, fractures fellowship, falsifies maturity and fills its adherents with doubt, because they can never know when they have done enough.
This creates a deadly, deceptive pride in which the person feels that they are loved and accepted by God based upon their noble efforts, good clean living, and stubborn determination to just do it! On the other hand, it may cause a person to feel a sense of absolute despair as they realize that they can never measure up, or muster up enough self-will to change their problems.
Efforts to quit, to change one’s behavior, or reform based on law and religion, instead of on love and grace in a living relationship with the Spirit of God, leaves one feeling tired. In Romans 7:24, Paul refers to himself as a wretched man. The Greek word for “wretched” is the word for a “callous.” A callous is developed by working your fingers to the bones. A believer who is always trying to find victory over the struggle with indwelling sin on the basis of performance will experience emotional, spiritual and physical exhaustion. Another feeling is expressed in the phrase, “…who will set me free?…” This is a sense of hopelessness. The believer says, “I have struggled with this thing; I have tried and failed. I have repented and rededicated time and time again and yet no relief is in sight.” Then there is a feeling of being trapped. A sense of being condemned. You feel as if you are constantly on a guilt trip and your friends or family serve as the travel agents in planning the itinerary for your guilt trips. And all of them are one way guilt trips. (You didn’t do this or that. You don’t love me. You should have done this, etc.)
Law-based performance causes one to constantly feel guilty, and when they don’t feel guilty for doing all that they think they ought to have done, they feel guilty for not feeling guilty.
With all this talk about the Law of God, is something wrong or sinful with God’s Law? No! Should we despise and neglect the law of God? No! Paul’s answer is that the Christian loves the Law of God, esteems the Law of God, delights in the Law of God, concurs with it, regards it as good, and does not blame the Law for his own failures. Instead the Christian admits that there is in all of us Christians, as long as this fallen age lasts and we live on the earth, the reality of “indwelling sin” (Romans 7:17, 20).
John Piper notes, “In other words, the Law does not cause our defeats, the Law defines our victories. Indwelling sin causes our defeats. And Paul is very jealous in Romans 6-8 that we not overstate or understate the measure of holiness possible in this fallen age where Christians are delivered from the dominion of sin and yet groan awaiting the full redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23) and the “law of sin” connected with them.
4. Victory in the Struggle with Indwelling Sin is Experienced by Faith in the Grace-based Flow of the Spirit
How do we destroy the strength and vitality of indwelling sin? We’ve already seen that we can’t do it by self- effort. Puritan John Owen said: “Mortification, (or putting sin to death) from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of self-righteousness is the soul and substance of all false religions.”
A. Hearing the Word of God and Receiving It
James 1:21, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
1.The Word of God declares that We are not What We Used to Be, nor are We What We Have Always Been!
Romans 7:17: “So now no longer am I the one doing it but sin which indwells me.” Sin does not rule us as it did in our pre-conversion days. It may attempt to act as master occasionally, but it does not have the legal rights to do so. The new person that I have become may act occasionally like the old me, but when I do it is no longer me, but the residual effects of sin that still remains within me. Remember, the person who says, “I am what I have always been” cannot be a Christian.
2. The Word of God Compels us to Freely Admit our Lack of Understanding (Romans7:15).
Pride makes it difficult for us as believers to admit that we have problems and do not have all the answers. How many believers do you know that are really transparent in their walk with the Lord? When we can be open and say “Look, I don’t have all the answers nor do I know anyone who does,” then we begin to experience emancipation. Sam Shoemaker was right when he said, “Everyone has a problem, is a problem, or has to live with a problem!” As Christians we must freely admit our own lack of understanding. We must remember that although we long for perfection, we are not going to attain it in this life. Though we are pressing toward the goal of Christ-likeness, we still have many faults and failures.
3. The Word of God Counsels us to Honestly Accept our own Imperfections!
Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”
No, this doesn’t mean excusing your indulgence of your flesh and sinning all you want because, after all you’re only human. However it does mean that we become less defensive of ourselves as we accept the fact that the “best of men are but men at best.” Being constituted as frail creatures of dust and feeble as frail, prompts us to acknowledge more readily that we could very well be a major source of the relational or personal problems we face. The cartoon character Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Someone else said we should add, “We have met the enemy and he is partly right.”
In Romans 7:24, Paul cries, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death.” The point he is making isn’t that Christian should want to live this way, or settle to live this way. What he is saying is, “when you do lapse or slip back on the religious performance treadmill and start to live this miserable way, here’s the Christian response. No lying. No hypocrisy. No posing, no faking it until you make it. No vaunted perfectionism. No pasted, plastic smiles, and chipper superficiality, and blindness to our own failures, and consequent quickness to judge others. Instead embrace the honesty and candor and humility of the apostle Paul and shout, “Thanks be unto God who goes on giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
B. Walking in the Spirit by Relying on Him – Gals 5:16 — “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
We would do well to consider the simplicity, difficulty, and danger of walking. Any walk is merely a succession of steps, and each step is a near fall — a border-line catastrophe. The same is true in the spiritual life. Every Christian is close to a fall with every step he takes. So the counsel of this verse is crucial in being a consistent, happy, powerful and productive Christian.
“Walk in the Spirit” — The prepositional phrase, “in the Spirit,” is in the instrumental case in the Greek language, and thus it means, “by means of the Spirit.” So the Christian is to go on taking successive steps all the time “by means of the Spirit,” that is, counting on Him, relying on Him, and resting in Him. Just as you depend on your feet, your legs, your muscles, your eyes, your brain – indeed, on your entire body when you walk physically, you are to rely on the Holy Spirit as the wisdom, vision, motivation, coordination, transformation, illumination, and power that you need every moment of your spiritual life.
It is the primary work of the Holy Spirit to so thoroughly engage the soul of a believer, filling them with love, peace, joy, and power, that the drawing power of sin is snapped. Victory over sin and holiness of life isn’t a burden but a joy. The sanctified saint is a dancing child, turning barefoot somersaults on the beaches of the Red Sea and singing to the desert skies, “I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and the rider are thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:1)
C. Seeing the Son of God and Responding to Him
2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
The above verse in The Amplified Bible: “And all of us, as with unveiled face, (because we) continued to behold (in the Word of God) as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; (for this comes) from the Lord (Who is) the Spirit.”
We combat sin more successfully by fanning the flames of the life of the Spirit within than we do by trying to fight the forces of sin within and sins without. The truth is what you see you will be. What you look at you will become like. What you focus on will form in your heart. What you behold, you become. What you faithfully see, you will finally be. What you look at lovingly, longingly and lastingly, you will become like. No wonder we are told to keep on looking unto Jesus!
John Piper writes, “The mark of the Christian is not perfection, but the fight of faith showing itself in imperfect love by the power of the Spirit and in the joyful confidence that God justifies the ungodly. So take Christ as your righteousness and fight to treasure him and his ways above all things.”
Here’s the Key to Victory with Our Struggles — Find in Jesus Everything that Father God finds in Him!
Hebrews 12:2, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,…”
The infinite happiness of the Father consists in the enjoyment of His Son. God’s pleasure, purpose, promises, and plans are in His Son.
So brothers and sisters, seek Christ continuously, preeminently, and intimately. Believe that everything God promised to be and do for you in Jesus, He has and will continue to do forever. Daily, yea, moment by moment, be seeking and finding Jesus as the chief Treasure and Pleasure of life, and this will greatly reduce your inward struggle with sin and sins and!