The Battle Within

Title: The Battle Within

Text: Romans 7:14-25

Time: September 30th, 2006

One of the great things about the Book of Romans is that it not only speaks general truth about our world, but it also speaks specific truth about our own lives. It tells the truth not only about universal issues, but also about particular, individual issues as well. Today, in Romans 7:14-25, Paul explains the battle we all face within ourselves to resist sin and do right. Now some people battle better than others, some people resist sin better than others, but everyone loses to sin at some point, even those who battle the best. That’s why Jesus needed to die on the cross, in order to take upon himself our sins, to suffer and die on our behalf as our atoning sacrifice for sin. But the battle Paul is talking about in this passage begins when we gradually understand God’s law and our obligation to obey it, but then when we find difficulty in obeying it. Part of us wants to obey the law of God that we are under obligation to obey, but another part of us wants to disobey it in rebellion. Part of us wants to do good and be obedient, and part of us wants to be bad and disobey. It’s almost like the old bugs bunny cartoon where there sits on his shoulders two angels, one good, one bad, each telling bugs to do the totally opposite thing. Bugs is pulled first in one direction, then another directions. His head is jerked back and forth from one side to another. Some times he does the right thing, but another time he’ll do the wrong thing. That’s a lot like our life, in real life. We are drawn to sin, but something inside of us tells us not to do it; and we agree that we should do what is right. But there is also the attraction to do evil, to sin, to choose and do what is wrong, and there is something inside of us that draws us to it. We are literally faced with a battle within ourselves every day over right and wrong. The Apostle Paul tries to put into words this great inner battle that everyone faces. Now we must remember that from a very early age, Paul was an extremely pious Jew who took his own faith very seriously. He was totally committed to living a life pleasing to God. He was not careless in his observance of all the requirements of the Jewish faith. But even Paul felt the battle within himself to what the law of God required. In fact, because Paul made it a point to know and try to do everything the law required, he found that he had an even greater battle within himself in fulfilling it. It must have been frustrating for him, as it is for all of us, to intend to do what is right, but find we keep on doing what is wrong instead. What the Apostle discovered is that good intentions are not enough. Resolution is not enough in order to win the battle between right and wrong. For Paul, and everyone as well, will power is not enough. There must be something outside of ourselves that can help us win the battle within over right and wrong. Paul explains what that extra power is in Romans 7:14-25 (read). Three things he mentions: first, good intentions; second, failing miserably; three, our only hope of victory.

First, good intentions are not enough. “Romans 7:14-18, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Notice that Paul’s intentions are good; he wants to do what is good and right. He agrees with the law, he agrees to what is good, he agrees to what is right. There is no denying of what is good, true, and right. Sometimes people will try to deny that something is wrong, or sinful, or evil. This makes it easier for them to do it because if they can talk themselves out of thinking that it is bad, it eases their guilty conscience. But that’s not Paul. He’s honest enough to admit to what is right. He says, “For I have the desire to do what is good,” Romans 7:18. Having been taught from childhood what is true, good, and right, Paul affirms the law and fully intends to obey it. That’s like a lot of people who are raised in the Christian West, or cultures that have been influenced by the Christian faith. Most people have attended a Christian church, many people as children attended Sunday School or Bible school in the summer. Most adults have attended church at least off and on in their lives; many have even been regular attenders. Most people have a basic understanding of God’s law and the moral requirements of God’s will for their lives. Most people would even agree to the basic moral laws they’ve been taught. Yet, as Paul describes in his own life, most people find it difficult to do what they know is right. Most people experience a battle within over sin and righteousness. In fact, everyone experiences this inner battle over right and wrong at different levels. As a member of the strict Jewish group the Pharisees, we know that Paul must have faced a fierce battle between right and wrong within himself because he was trying to keep the whole law. But today, even very loose and careless keepers of God’s moral law in our modern permissive society, these people still face the inner battle over right and wrong, even at their very low level. It is said that even among thieves there is a basic code of right and wrong. And we know that even notorious mafia members have their own “moral” codes that they battle to try to keep. So everyone, the most strict law-keepers like Paul, to the most loose and careless keepers of the law, everyone battles within themselves at times between right and wrong. But Paul’s point it that good intentions are never enough, because they don’t provide the power to enable us to choose the good over the bad. In fact, we all fail miserably, which is Paul’s next point.

Second, we all fail at doing what is right and good. Romans 7:19-23, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” Paul is frustrated by the fact that the very thing he intends to do, he doesn’t do. Have you ever told yourself before a holiday meal that you are not going to eat too much this time, but only enough to get yourself full of the delicious food? You may have even told others beside yourself of your intention to only eat until you are full. But then once you start eating you can’t seem to stop and before you know it you’ve not only eaten until you are full, but you’ve gone beyond that until you are totally stuffed. Then, as your stomach is hurting and you are feeling sick, you remember your resolution to only eat until you start to feel full and you now feel guilt and shame because you couldn’t come through on your good intentions, you couldn’t fulfill your good resolution. That’s what Paul is talking about and describing in himself, and all of us also. We may start out with good intentions, but we always end falling far short of our resolution. This is the tragedy of the human condition since the original fall in the Garden of Eden; we are all weakened by Adam’s original sin within us, we all have a dual nature, one that has it in us to obey God in some way, but the other nature within us that rebels against God at every opportunity. This is why there is a constant battle within each of us, between good and bad, sin and righteousness, obedience and disobedience. There have been great heroes of the Christian faith down through the ages that have written about this great battle within them. Maybe the first great Christian after Paul to describe it is Augustine, who wrote of it in his Confessions. All during his youth he battled within himself whether to do good or bad, and mostly the bad won. During the Medieval times, various monks wrote about their continued struggle to do good and battle evil, even in a cloistered monastery, away from the world of temptations! During the Reformation period, Martin Luther described his futile efforts at choosing good over evil and the battle that raged within his very soul over his failure to live an obedient life. Then still later in the 1700s, John Wesley found it near impossible to live a holy life even with the many “methods” he employed. But we don’t need great and famous people to tell us that there is a battle being waged within each of us for good over bad; we feel it ourselves. That there is a battle is obvious, but the real question is: what can we do about it? Paul asks that same question, next.

Third, Christ is our only help and hope of victory. Romans 7:24-25, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Now Paul isn’t exactly clear on the solution to the problem, we must take time to decipher what he means. The problem is stated clear enough: we have this battle waging within ourselves between good and bad which we can’t seem to win, and we find ourselves losing, what will become of us? Or as Paul puts it: “What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” We could say the same thing. Are we forever stuck with an internal conflict? Must we forever be tossed from one side to the other, from good to bad in our internal struggle? The Apostle’s reference to a “body of death” probably refers to how he feels as he is the battleground for the war between good and evil in his life. Who can deny that the inner battle between good and bad leaves us feeling like a battlefield? Sometimes that battle within feels like it’s going to kill us, that we carry around a body or battlefield of death, as the war rages within us. The constant temptations to do wrong, our putting up resistance, our fighting temptations, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, as the battle goes on. We might even feel like the soldiers in the bloody Civil War that dragged on and on, year after year, with no apparent victory. The thought of living our whole lives in perpetual internal warfare is a depressing thought. That’s why Paul says, “What a wretched man I am.” He’s depressed with the idea of having to live life as a constant inner battle, so he cries out for a deliverer, someone to rescue him from the never-ending war within. Now at this point, theologians have tried to explain what Paul is saying. Is he referring to his life before Christ or his life even after his conversion to Christ? The solution it seems is that he’s referring to both, but not in the same proportion. For example, before our conversion to Christ we experience the pull between good and bad, but we can’t win the battle because we don’t have enough power within ourselves. But after we place our absolute trust in Christ, after we embrace Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are given the power over temptation and sin, we win the battle, but we must finalize that victory through the exercise of Christ’s power in our lives. It’s a little like the end of World War II, where the allies strategically won the war some time before the final Nazi resistance was defeated. Historians look back and say that the war was won at such and such a point, but it took a while later before all the enemy resistance was crushed and all hostilities ended. That’s the same with our victory in Christ over sin. Christ defeated sin on the cross, and our identification with Christ wins us our victory over sin, but it takes a lifetime to put down all the pockets of resistance we still encounter from the combined forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” and then answers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The meaning is that Jesus Christ rescues him and us from our body of death, our battle within, or else what’s there to be thankful for? Paul says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What is Paul thanking God for? He’s thanking God for the victory over sin through Jesus Christ. Does that mean we never have to struggle with sin ever again? No, because we still have to put down the pockets of sinful resistance we find within ourselves, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we have won the battle, we are victorious over sin through Christ Jesus. In every war in recorded history, there are two important dates that historians look for: one, is the decisive battle that really turns the tide and wins the war for the victorious side, and two, there is the actual final day when all hostilities cease and papers are signed to totally and completely end the war. Now both dates are realities, but one is the virtual end of the war, the other is the official end of the war. In the Civil War, it is said that the battle of Gettysburg was the virtual end of the Civil War, while the official end came at the Appomattox courthouse a little later. So too in our own lives, in our battle within against sin, our victory was achieved on the cross and when we embrace Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. After that point, the power of sin has been crushed in our lives, we now have the power to resist sin and do what is right. If we could perfectly remember this and perfectly apply it, we’d never have another problem with sin. However, as important and decisive as that victory over sin was, we still have to put down the remaining resistance in our lives where sin is battling. So we have been delivered from the major conflict of sin in our lives, but we still have to engage the enemy in local battles at times in order to finalize what Christ won for us on the cross and what we embrace in Christ. Practically speaking, this means that when we embrace Christ at conversion, we are immediately given power over sin, in order to resist the temptations that used to defeat us. Our victory is reflected in the fact that we feel this added ability to win the battle that raged within us between good and evil. But we might be surprised to experience sin and temptation in our lives even after our victory in Jesus. That’s because we still must put down all the remaining resistance that we find within our old self, old habits, old thought patterns, and old ways. We must begin through the new power we posses to live in the new way of Christ, not going back to the old way of sin. Our goal now is to live in the new way and put down the remaining pockets of resistance from the old way. This is our new assignment. Do you realize that you’ve won the victory in Jesus? There’s an old song that describes the new reality we can live in called Victory in Jesus. That’s what we must sing from now on.

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One Response to “The Battle Within”

  1. olaolu Says:

    God bless you real good.u have really blessed me.im helped!

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